Twenty-five years ago, a fledgling farmers market got its modest start in a small parking lot on Waynesville’s Main Street with only two vendors.
Today, Waynesville is home to two farmers markets — held on the same day, at the same time and less than half a mile apart.
The rarity of two markets in a town the size of Waynesville shows a clear love for local produce. But the dual markets stems from key philosophical differences among the vendors, which ultimately led to a split. Two years since the divorce, leaders of both markets say a reconciliation is still nowhere in sight.
“They are pretty well set to continue on the way they are,” said Joanne Meyer, a member of Haywood’s Historic Farmer’s Market board. “We will continue on the way we are. We have always said they were welcome to join us. They would have done so by now if that’s what they wanted to do.”
“I don’t see a problem with it continuing being two markets,” said Judy West, co-market manager of the Waynesville Tailgate Market, the original market in town. “They’re new-age, and we’re old-age.”
With one vendor already at 90 years old and others in their 80s, Judy West estimates that her vendors have more than a 1,000 years of gardening and farming experience under their belts.
However, the Historic market, too, has many old-timers in its ranks, including mountain farming families going back several generations, who sell alongside young farmers and transplants to the area.
Steve West, former director of the Haywood County Extension Office, remembers the early efforts to start Haywood County’s first farmers market. He led a dogged phone campaign to entice farmers and home gardeners to the market, which expanded little by little until eventually its own success got the better of it.
By the summer of 2008, the Tailgate Market was bulging at the seams and could no longer fit in the confines of the Main Street parking lot.
As farmers hunted for a new location, a difference in philosophy that had been brewing below the surface finally boiled over, and vendors went their separate ways.
Each market seems content to continue operating under its own ideology.
“We deal strictly with fresh fruits and vegetables,” said West. “We think a farmers market and tailgate markets, any way you want to slice it, should be about fruits and vegetables.”
Unlike its counterpart, the Historic market allows vendors from counties that are adjacent to Haywood, as well as farmers selling eggs, cheese, homemade breads, jams, meat, seafood and heritage crafts.
Meyer pointed out that at the Historic market, seafood is delivered right from the North Carolina coast the day after it’s caught.
“Everything’s very fresh,” said Meyer. “It’s just wonderful to have that available in this area.”
A looming threat
West can only think of one scenario in which the two markets will merge. The Food Safety Modernization Act, which is being considered by federal legislators, has the potential to impose costly new requirements at farms. Depending on the version that is passed, the burden might be too heavy for small-scale farmers to shoulder. West fears only large, commercial farms will be able to survive the tougher regulations. Farmers left standing might have to band together at one market since their numbers will likely decline drastically.
“It’s going to hurt a lot of markets, not just ours,” said West.
West’s husband, Steve, anticipates the worst if a strict version of the federal law is passed.
“You will see these markets belly up across the country,” he said.
Meyer said for now, she and her counterparts are just waiting to see if the bill is passed.
“On the one hand, you want to see food safety,” said Meyer. “But it seems like maybe the government ought to concentrate more on the agri-business and leave the small farmers some room.”
Steve West pointed out that most farmers at markets aren’t exactly making a killing.
“We’re not rich growing squash, you know,” Steve West said. “Most of us do it because we enjoy growing and we enjoy meeting people.”
Have your pick
• Haywood’s Historic Farmer’s Market at the HART Theater in Waynesville. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays May through Oct. 828.627.3469. www.waynesvillefarmersmarket.com.
• Waynesville Tailgate Market at the American Legion in Waynesville. 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturday June through Oct. 828.456.3517. In marking its 25th anniversary, the Waynesville Tailgate Market will have a $50 cash giveaway this week. Entries will be taken at the market on Wednesday, Aug. 11, and Saturday, Aug. 14.