Fall is in the air, the humidity has finally subsided and fresh produce is in abundance: cue the perfect time to visit the Charleston Farmers Market conveniently located in Marion Square. When the dining hall may offer less than appealing options and eating out in Charleston can quickly take a toll on a college student’s budget, there is no better place to turn than the farmers market, where you can find fresh pasta for a dollar a serving, more produce than you’ll know what to do with and a plethora of friendly faces. It’s hard not to see the appeal, but in case you need more convincing, look no further than this article.
Why does everyone go crazy for pumpkin spice flavored anything every October? Because it’s seasonal; no one is drinking a pumpkin spice latte in May. This same concept used to apply to all foods, only eating apples in the fall when they are naturally in season, tomatoes in summer, avocados in spring. Food actually has a season when it is meant to be eaten relevant to the area it was grown. While everyone loves peaches and they can easily be purchased from Harris Teeter any day of the year, in North America they are meant to be enjoyed during the summer months when they are grown and ripened locally. You will, without question, be able to see and taste the difference of a South Carolina peach purchased in Marion Square compared to one grown internationally and shipped across thousands of miles wrapped in cellophane sitting under the harsh lighting of your favorite chain grocery store.
We should get as excited about seasonal produce found at the farmers market as we do about pumpkin spice every fall. While this may sound daunting, it is easy to do. Go to the farmers market every Saturday morning and see what is being sold. If you find yourself in Marion Square next Saturday, you may come across sweet potatoes, pears, carrots and apples accompanied by a farmer who will be more than happy to give you cooking suggestions and tips because, let’s be real, we are still college students.
However, if the thought of cooking is more terrifying than taking all your finals in one day, not to fear! You can still find plenty to eat at the farmers market. From food stands to olive oil, homemade pickles and even handmade cards there is something for everyone at the Charleston Farmers Market – even if it is just good conversation.
Shaughnessy got started in the peanut business after he retired. “A friend of mine had a road stand in Summerville so I decided to do the same and started frying them,” he said. For a while, Shaughnessy sold peanuts on the side of the road, but now he’s at the farmers market every Saturday and ships his peanuts all over the United States and Virgin Islands and to Canada.
The newest addition to the Street Hero Vietnamese Tacos menu are hot congee bowls which is Walker’s take on “Vietnamese grits.” The five year market veteran was “tired of everyone serving the same grits so [he] decided to change it up.” Walker’s favorite part of the farmers market: “Waking up at 4:30 a.m.! No I’m joking I love coming and hanging out with friends.”
Lisa Zayton, Normandy Farm and Bakery
A sign on the table of Normandy Farm and Bakery reads, “Good bread is good for you.” And as Zayton describes it, the bread is more than just good. They ground the flour for their breads on Thursday, mix the dough on Friday and bake the bread on Saturday morning at 3 a.m. to be sold in Marion Square. When asked why students should come to the farmers market, Zayton’s response was simply, “They wake and bake so you don’t have to.”
“If you can’t take the heat you don’t take the beat,” said Van De Wiel in regard to his wife’s homemade spices and pickles that she has sold at the farmers market for the past 25 years. “We are literally homemade.” His wife makes all the pickles and spices from their home, growing the peppers used for the spices in their backyard. “I’ve seen people cry and their noses are running and they’re sweating but you don’t want that, I don’t want that.” Van De Wiel loves spicy food and says the trick with spice is that “it’s all about the taste, enjoying the flavors of the food.” In the 90’s, he and his wife owned a Jamaican restaurant in West Ashley. Van De Wiel’s wife is Jamaican and got him hooked on spice years ago. “This stuff, let me tell you, is addictive. I cannot live without this stuff.” Van De Wiel has many repeat customers who keep coming back for the pickles, spices and good conversation with the “pickle man” himself.
Bradley creates her own prints which she puts on anything from cards and posters to dish towels and decorative banners. While she’s in her sixth season at the market, Bradley says she still learns something new every year. “It’ just an amazing week every single time. Awesome people, incredible energy, everyone’s happy having a good time, there are local things to support, food, art, music.”
Howe started selling his produce at the farmers market in 1992. “I used to be a business and management consultant before I changed careers,” he said. Howe moved to South Carolina over two decades ago and started farming Certified Naturally Grown produce at Owl’s Nest Plantation, which he says is “the same thing as organic.” Howe’s current favorite thing to grow: a purple peruvian fingerling potato.
After retiring from teaching third grade, DeCamilla created her “Charleston Blend” olive oil from olives grown on her family orchard in California. She adds local spices to the olives, which she has been selling at the Charleston Farmers Market for the past five years. This summer DeCamilla added a “dirty martini grind” to the table priced at a reasonable $5 for college students. DeCamilla emphasized that farmers markets are not out of students price ranges. “We have our regular size bottles for $14 and a smaller size for $10 and for college students, we offer a refill for $8, so once you get started you can just bring your empty bottle back.” She added, “We’re open until two and most college students are up by two so the hours are good, too.”
*This article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Yard.