Start delving into such a philosophy on food, and the conversation inevitably turns towards the value of eating locally – a task that in parts of 21st century America is often easier said than done.
Here in Bastrop County, however, locally grown fruits and vegetables are now available on a daily basis, thanks to a growing number of farmer markets and the small farms that supply them with product. Here are three:
Bastrop Producer’s Market
The newest of the farmers markets in Bastrop County is the Bastrop Producer’s Market at 977 Texas 71. Gearing up to celebrate their two-year anniversary this June, the market advertises itself as “a new kind of farmers market.” Instead of only selling food on weekends, for example, the operation is open six days a week and during evening commuting hours. With one person running the market as a representative for other producers, the schedule strives to be more flexible for vendors who often don’t have time to leave behind their responsibilities in the fields. Jacque Gates, who started the Bastrop Producer’s Market with her husband, James McCracken, says she was all too familiar with the strains of splitting time between farming and selling at local farmer’s markets.
“I started thinking what would be my ideal selling situation,” Gates said. “Although I love talking to customers and getting away from the land, it would be great if someone could sell for me. It kind of took off from there. We’re in this weird gray area where we’re not a retail store, but not exactly a farmer’s market. We don’t really fit anybody’s model.”
1832 Farmers Market
Another of Bastrop County’s newest markets is the 1832 Farmer’s Market, located at 1302 Chestnut Street and formed in May of 2008 by Erika Bradshaw and her husband. Open year round on friday and Sundays the market has steadily grown to offer more than 15 vendors each Saturday and around 10 vendors on Fridays. Bradshaw, who with her husband, runs Bradshaw Farms in Smithville, says she sees increasing numbers of people interested in locally–grown food as opposed to that which is shipped in from other countries and found in most major grocery stores. She says the amount of nutritional value lost in food as it is shipped across country, plus the chemicals used to keep those foods from spoiling, should be of great concern to consumers.
“Farmers markets across the country are growing as people want local food,” Bradshaw said. “The fact you know who is growing it and that it is local is becoming more and more important to people everywhere. Even for those growing vegetables conventionally, if it’s local, it’s still better for you than organically-grown vegetables shipped across the country. It’s no good being an organic farmer if you’re not selling locally.”
In conjunction with providing a venue for farmers to sell their goods and make a living, the 1832 Farmer’s Market has also begun working in community outreach programs, sponsoring community gardens and encouraging area youth to try their hand in gardening. Such has been made possible through the formation of a nonprofit group called Bastrop Sustainable Agricultural Community.
“Our goal is just to try and promote agriculture, keeping it local and keeping the carbon footprint down while also allowing smaller farmers like us to make a living,” Bradshaw said.
This year the River Valley Farmers Market will be celebrating their 25th anniversary, making it the oldest farmers market in Bastrop County. The operation was begun with the combined efforts of farmers from far reaches of the county and today offers fresh fruits and vegetables in Bastrop, Smithville and Elgin on alternating days. Touting themselves as a growers-only market, River Valley’s vendors pride themselves on selling only what their own members produce, whether that is food, assorted crafts or folk art.
Eileen Niswander, president of the farmers market, says membership has jumped from 18 vendors to 28 this year, a positive sign they may be spreading the word about the worth of farmer’s markets.
“We want to promote a turn in the way people look at food and understand food and its health benefits,” Niswander said when asked about goals for the future. “You hear all the information telling you to avoid foods with pesticides, so if you come to our market, you get to see who is selling you your food and ask them what they are putting on it. Ninety-nine percent of the time they will tell you, no chemicals. So our goal is just to further enhance the availability of local fresh food that is pesticide–free and has health benefits to our customers.”
Market days in Elgin are Tuesdays from 1 p.m. until sell out; in Smithville, Thursdays from 1 p.m. to sell out and in Bastrop from 10 a.m. till sell out. After years of being located on Chestnut Street, the Bastrop location has recently moved to a new location next door to Duke’s stop at Ponderosa Texas 71.