Farmers markets encourage communty engagement, healthy lifestyle

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER — Quail eggs are slightly more expensive than chicken eggs, at $5.50 a dozen. But Matt Hardin said they are tastier and far more nutritious.

Mark Bishop said lemon cucumbers taste better than the original, too — they are never bitter. And baby fingerlings — mini potatoes, are much more delicious than their regular-sized counterparts.

Both Hardin and Bishop — of Life More Abundant Ranch in Stephenson and Master’s Touch Plants and Produce in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, respectively — sell products from their farms at the Freight Station Farmers Market in Winchester.

Bishop is not yet able to live solely off his farm, he said, and finds a separate occupation in the winter. But Hardin said he has been able to do so, but is hoping to do better soon.

“But I really enjoy it,” Hardin said. “We’re making a living. We’re just young still.”

This week is National Farmers Market week, and recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a release in which the top 10 states with the most farmers markets were listed. Virginia, with 246 markets, ranked ninth, tied with Missouri.

The purpose of the markets range for those involved. Bishop wants to encourage customers to eat vegetables they may not otherwise consider, for example, while Ken Newbraugh of Liz Handcrafted Soaps was seeking a hobby for himself and his wife after retirement.

But for most, like Beth Nowak of Mayfair Farm in Bunker Hill, West Virginia, it comes back to encouraging local spending and a healthy lifestyle. Nowak has organized the market since 1987.

“The mission of this market is to provide an outlet for small producers to grow their own things,” Nowak said. “It’s a matter of leveling the playing field.”

Nowak and her family have lived off their farm, where they grow a wide variety of vegetables, since 1983. Only one other vendor with the market does the same.

She said that is rather unusual. Most farmers, like Bishop, are working to live entirely off their products, but have not yet been able to do so.

Becky Weagle, co-chair of the Front Royal Farmers Market, is another example. She owns Mighty Oak Farms.

“I’m not able to make a living off it, but it’s something I love to do,” Weagle said.

The Front Royal Market, she said, is unique. All the vendors work together, making it more of a community-centered activity rather than a place in which individuals sell their items.

“We have the buy fresh, buy local philosophy, but our philosophy is also about a community working together to promote healthy choices,” she said.

There is a similar community-centered feeling to the Freight Station Farmers Market, according to Nowak. At the end of each day, the vendors get together to share produce with each other, keeping up the same healthy, local lifestyle they encourage in their customers.

That is one of the reasons Nowak said she believes farmers markets are so important.

“If we remove ourselves too far from the source of our food, we no longer have an actual understanding of what life and death are,” she said. “There is a seasonality to life, things come and they go, and if you wait a while it will change. I think if you stay in touch by eating locally, then you understand that.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com