August 2014
Homeplace & Community

Its Time Has Come

Huntsville’s Popular Greene Street Market is part farmers’ market, part festival.

Moms and Dads with babies and toddlers in strollers or Radio Flyer wagons, teens, seniors, singles and families all ages in between made up a walking-room-only crowd on this bright day in downtown Huntsville. Family dogs from toy poodles to Great Danes joined in the fun, too.

It was Thursday evening and Greene Street Market day once more. The threat of downpours wouldn’t be the spoiler this week like it was the previous Thursday.

Left to right, Steve Carpenter of Jack O’Lantern Farms in Muscle Shoals feels that the Greene Street Market is “the best-run” in Alabama. He’s already begun planting pumpkins for early September harvest. Jimmy Sparks, who farms in the Big Cove community in Madison County, uses hydroponics like Steve Carpenter does. Greens such as lettuces are Sparks’ major focus.

Part market and part festival, the weekly market features farmers and other vendors from Morgan, Lauderdale, Madison, Limestone and Marshall counties, and even southern Tennessee selling their products to eager customers.

Strains of music could be heard in the background on this mid-June day as popular guitarist Phil Weaver played guitar accompanied by Rosa Vidra Richardson on the flute. They chose the whimsical name Toot N’ Twang to characterize themselves and the diverse music they played – everything from tangos and bossa novas to Mason Williams and Radiohead.

  The wildly popular Microwave Dave takes a break from playing the blues at the Greene Street Market. Each Thursday, customers get a chance to hear musical entertainment from one or more artists.

Steve Carpenter of Jack O’Lantern Farms in Muscle Shoals was there. So was Jimmy Sparks, of the Big Cove community in Madison County, who specializes in lettuces and green vegetables such as kale. Both count themselves among the original vendors, and both use hydroponics to raise their produce.

This year, for the first time, Lowe Mill and its artists are represented every week. Brosemer Farms sells flowers while farms such as Champion, Spradlin and Harbin offer veggies.

Under other tents, a craftsman featured chopping boards he had made by hand, a vendor from Lowe Mill carried various flavors of specialty tea. For those with food allergies, there was a baker who sold homemade, sugar-free and gluten-free products. Suzie’s Gourmet Ice Pops delight children and adults alike every Thursday.

Carpenter was one of six sellers at the market when it began 3 years ago. Customers routinely like to open their wallets and purses to buy his juicy ripe tomatoes. On June 12, Carpenter sold 700 pounds of the produce "easy," he said.

"I used to be on the State Farmers’ Market Board," Carpenter said. "Marilyn (Evans of Greene Street Market) called and looked over my farm … I’ve been in the same spot" since the beginning.

This year, the vendors number in the mid-40s with about 100 on the waiting list, according to Evans, head of the working board. Twenty-four members of Church of the Nativity and First Presbyterian Church serve on the board of what was the first such non-profit market in Huntsville.

"Farmers get all of what they sell," Evans said. "They pay (a fee) for the space, and that money goes to outreach to our community" chosen by the board.

The market accepts SNAP and EBT benefits as do some other markets in the area, enabling those on low incomes to buy fresh, locally grown produce.

Carpenter spoke highly of the Greene Street Market. Other than having a small stand at his farm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, this is the only market he participates in.

"They advertise and draw a crowd," he said. Besides word-of-mouth, Greene Street commands a big presence on Facebook and a website revised frequently by vendor Walter Thames with photos shot by Evans. Thames’ booth features his own small-food business called What’s for Supper?

Carpenter farms 25 acres of vegetables in addition to raising laying hens, broilers, and herds of beef cattle and pigs.

Farmer Jimmy Sparks always participates in Greene Street and two other non-profits – Latham United Methodist market on Tuesdays and the Bailey Cove Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

Echoing Carpenter’s observations, Sparks called the June 12 market "huge," enabling him to "sell out in an hour and a half." Greene Street runs 4-8 p.m. Many other farmers and vendors did quite well, too.

Besides lettuces and other green vegetables that Sparks grows using hydroponics, the Madison County farmer raises Silver Queen corn and okra using conventional methods.

Hydroponics is the growing of plants without soil using nutrient-filled water instead. With 65,000 plants, Sparks grows the equivalent of two conventional acres, using significantly less water.

He said he has "the satisfaction of knowing he’s giving (customers) a product picked the same day" filled with nutrition. He enjoys hearing from those "who call and say thanks …. It gets in your blood."

Evans observed markets like this one provide "a good way to support someone who’s lost a job, entrepreneurs and (new) marketers" trying to get their name out to the public.

"Greene Street Market builds connections between rural and urban residents …," she said. "It’s an idea whose time has come."

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer who lives in Huntsville.