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‘Sunny’ debut for farmers market

Spring-like weather, complete with high March winds, ushered in this year's edition of the Baker County Farmers Market in north Macclenny.The Baker County Farmers Market kicked off its 2012 season under sunny skies and brisk winds at Macclenny City Park on March 3, offering something for just about everybody, including fresh vegetables, flowering and fruit-bearing plants, handmade jewelry and homemade baked goods.

For entertainment during the five-hour event from 8 am until 1 pm, there was music by the Bluegrass Breeze and clogging demonstrations by a local 4-H group.

If the first Saturday was any indication the weekly market should be a big hit this year, said Darryl Register, co-chair of the event and director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce.

“I was very satisfied and happy,” Mr. Register said. “We’d love to have more vendors. But we had seven, and during the fall run we never had more than four.”

 

Joy Ruhe with her macaw Captain Sparrow.The market began in 2010. Organizers schedule one event during the spring season and another, shorter one, during the fall leading up to Thanksgiving.

For the first time, the market this year included two vendors selling so-called “cottage food products,” which the state now allows to be sold to the public without a license, including homemade breads, cakes, cookies, candies, jams, jellies and fruit pies.

Organizers had hoped that the introduction of cottage food vendors to the market might stimulate sales and help the event grow. Mr. Register said it  appears to have been a factor in the successful opening day.

“It was a great day,” he said. “There was steady traffic all day long. I think all the vendors were happy.”

Joy Ruhe, a cottage food vendor who also raises exotic birds and sells jewelry adorned with the colorful feathers from her parrots, attended her first Baker County Farmers Market. But she said it won’t be the last.

“We definitely plan to be regular attendees here,” said Mrs. Ruhe, who raises primarily macaws and African greys at her home on Reid Stafford Road off County Road 229 near Sanderson.

She said she has operated a booth at the Lake City Farmers Market for years, but after the successful day she had Saturday she plans to make the Baker County event a regular part of her schedule from now on.

“It was wonderful and organized really well,” she said. “Everybody was so supportive and I love the fact that everybody brought their children. It was also nice having public restrooms instead of port-a-lets.”

Visitors dance to music from Bluegrass Breeze.It was a particularly lucrative outing for her, as well.

“I made twice as much (money) as I usually did in Lake City in one day,” Mrs. Ruhe said, adding that she sold earrings, hair bands and hair clips bearing feathers of “bright, vibrant, crisp colors.”

Her jewelry customers, she said, ranged from school age children to those well over senior citizen status.

“People from 8 to 80 are wearing these feathers,” she said.

Mrs. Ruhe also sold an assortment of muffins, cupcakes and a variety of other goodies, including velvet cake, pound cake and carrot cake, all of which she baked in her home kitchen.

Another vendor who had a pretty good day was Ralph Sands, owner of Sands Day Lily Farms and one of the original vendors at the first Baker County Farmers Market in 2010.

“They had a pretty good crowd, looked to me,” said Mr. Sands. “I had a booth down there selling nursery stock — flowers and vegetable plants. We had a pretty good mixture. We had tomato and squash and cucumber and pepper plants. We had azaleas and blueberry bushes, too.”

After he got out of the automobile dealership business in downtown Macclenny more than three decades ago, he said, he and his wife started their farm “as a hobby.” This was the first year he didn’t grow any vegetables to bring to the market, he said, noting that he’s starting to slow down a bit as he nears his 80th birthday “come August.”

He said he’d like to see more participation by other vendors in the market and predicted that the numbers would grow as spring vegetables mature on local farms.

Mr. Register said he, too, expects the number of vendors to start increasing over the next several weeks.

Bluegrass Breeze performs.“There’s hardly any local vegetables growing right now,” he said. “By early April, as local crops become more available we’ll start seeing more farmers (participating).”

Only two produce vendors brought fresh vegetables to the park Saturday, including tomatoes, cabbages, squash and sweet potatoes. The other five vendors sold a variety of things, including the feathered jewelry, bird houses, plants and cottage foods.

April Teel and Jeanie Prosch, Baker County siblings who run a cottage food partnership called Two Sisters and an Oven, said they sold almost all the food they brought to the market Saturday, which included fresh baked loaves of bread, brownies, chocolate chip cookies.

They also brought some homemade homeopathic skin creams and soy candles, but said those items don’t sell as well as their baked goods.

Wendell Cones, one of the vendors who brought flowers and fruit trees to sell, said he hadn’t sold anything all morning. However, he wasn’t discouraged and said he would return.

“We know people come and look, and then a week or so later they come back with money,” he said. “Trees aren’t cheap.”

There’s no specific date for the end of the farmers market season. Mr. Register said it probably will end in July.

“It depends on the vendors and shoppers,” he said. “It takes vendors to attract shoppers and you’ve got to have shoppers to attract more vendors.”

Barbara Anderson contributed to this story.

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