See and be seen at the Landrum Farmers Market

Published 3:58 pm Friday, July 28, 2017

Written by Steve Wong

Come Saturday morning during the growing season in the Carolina Foothills, in-the-know foodies and folks who just like homegrown veggies, jockey for parking spaces along Trade Avenue in Landrum where pickup trucks have lined up, growers setting up folding tables to sell everything from cabbage heads as big as basketballs to carrots as small as match sticks.

The smart shoppers get to the Landrum Farmers Market as early as 8 a.m., when everything is just-picked and aplenty. If you sleep in, all of the best stuff will be gone by 10 o’clock. By closing time, noon, all that’s left will be empty baskets, wilted greens, and the echoes of live music.

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If you’re coming from I-26 through downtown, you’ll pass through the cutesy shops and restaurants on Rutherford Street. If you approach from US 176 or Howard Avenue, look beyond the railroad tracks to the row of old Water Oaks, to the stretch of grass where the crowd of people and dogs are milling about in the shade looking for heirloom tomatoes, blue lake green beans, and crookneck squash. If you hear a concertina playing folk tunes, you’ve arrived.

There’s a casualness to the Landrum Farmers Market. Most of the sellers know each other, and most everyone knows someone there. The buying and selling of food runs just ahead of the exchange of social chitchat and handshakes. It is easily the place to be in Landrum on Saturday morning.

“Hey, Chef Stu, we really liked that strawberry-buttermilk-sugar pie that we got last week. We liked it too much and ate it in one sitting. Mmm, blueberry-buttermilk-sugar pie sure sounds good, but if I get it, I’ll eat it, and my pants are too tight already. But tell me about these strange-looking orange mushrooms … What do you mean you ‘foraged’ for them?”

Stuart Partin is the chef at The Orchard Inn in Saluda, and on Saturdays he sells prepared foods at the market. You might not always know what he’s selling, but you can count on it always being too good for your own good.

Organic fruits, vegetables, and meats, mountain trout, and blue and green eggs. Craftsman-made wooden birdhouses and bat houses and toys. Canned pickles, jams and jellies, honey, egg rolls, fresh-baked bread, fresh-cut flowers. Pottery, soaps, mushrooms growing out of logs, and bug-eating plants.

Each week, what is going out of season is ushered out and what is in season is ushered in, by the truckload. Strawberries make way for blueberries that make way for peaches that make way for apples. And everyone is always looking for the best cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, corn, and watermelons. By market rule, everything has to be locally grown, even those strange-looking Asian vegetables.

Today, the Landrum Farmers Market is one of the largest and most popular in the region, attracting 30-35 vendors and 300-600 patrons each week, according to Joe Cunningham, the farmer in charge. You can find him and his wife Joyce at the market selling vegetables from space #5.

Neither he nor City Manager Rich Caplan has much in the way of statistical data to gauge the market’s economic impact, but both agree it helps attract people to downtown, where they might eat breakfast and/or lunch and visit the retail shops as part of their small town hunting-and-gathering experience. Caplan estimates that about 10 percent of the patrons come from out of town, while Cunningham has seen visitors from Greenville, Spartanburg, Rutherfordton, and Polk counties.

“The economic impact is impossible to estimate,” Cunningham says, “But with as many patrons as we have on Saturday morning, there is money spent in other places in town. The vendors don’t expect to get rich. They only want to provide great produce and cover expenses.”

However, some vendors do have a financial plan. Selling homemade lemonade at 50 cents a cup, 8-year-old Noah Jones is socking away about $13 each week for his college fund. His grandmother lets him keep the other half of his profits for fun during his summer stay with her. She actually makes the lemonade, and he’s the official taster and marketing icon, i.e., cute kid standing behind the jug and homemade sign.

Because those are no participation fees, Noah and the other sellers get to keep all that they sell. However, they do have to get advance acceptance from Cunningham, who is tasked with the week-to-week logistics, such as making sure there’s a good mix of fresh produce (75 percent edible) with the crafts (5 percent), live music, and porta potties.

Even though there is very little overhead, the market does receive funds from the Polk County Community Foundation, the Paul Culberson Agricultural Development Fund, the City of Landrum, and AgSouth Farm Credit. In an effort to attract more young people, some money was earmarked this year to pay high school students to do some lifting and toting, and other dollars go to local musicians, such as gospel quintets, classical duets, solo cover artists, and traditional folk instrumentalists.

The Landrum Farmers Market has come a long way since the early 1990s, when Charlie Pace and R.C. Pace would peddle produce in the train depot’s yard, Cunningham recalls. Slowly the market grew and eventually outgrew that location. In 2011, the depot’s renovations necessitated the market’s move to its current and considerably better location, where parking and shade are as plentiful as yellow corn in July. And although officials have advertised the market through both traditional and trendy media, “word of mouth is probably our greatest advertising,” Cunningham said.

Sticking to the basics seems to be best course of action for the growing popularity of the Landrum Farmers Market. “Our vendors are proud of their product. It is fresh, clean, and local,” Cunningham said. “We find that if we have these three things, the patrons will come.”

For more information about the Landrum Farmers Market, visit its Facebook page or stop by before the growing season ends, the last Saturday in October. •

Steve Wong is a freelance writer living in the peach orchards of the Carolina Foothills. He can be reached at