Chatham Farms and Farmers Markets: An Introduction
by Jan Nichols
We live in a locavore community. Chatham County educates the next generation of sustainable farmers in a renowned program at the Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, and is home to three nationally-significant agencies that provide information and support to farmers and ranchers, and three local farmers markets exist for shoppers to enjoy.
“There are several reasons the farmers market is important to me,” said Scotty Young, a regular at the Pittsboro Farmers Market. “First, the availability, presence, and pleasure of community that I find at the farmers market… and the same goes for the great fresh food—vegetables, fish, and meats.”
Visiting the local farmers market is an opportunity to connect with the extended Chatham agrarian community, see old friends, and make new ones.
“When I first came to Pittsboro I fell in love with the town and this farmers market. Why? The sense of community is so strong,” said Elizabeth Thomas. “Beyond the fact that a farmers market is a huge benefit, not all markets have the same strong sense of community. There is a warmth and caring you can feel as a customer.”
Small direct-market farms are a special part of Chatham. For most of these farms, farmers markets are the primary way of earning for their enterprises. “We’re fortunate to have three farmers markets in Chatham,” said local agricultural extension agent Debbie Roos “They are grower-only markets. That means the person you see at the market grew or produced what they are selling.”
The local markets — Fearrington Farmers Market on Tuesday, Pittsboro Farmers Market on Thursday, and the Chatham Mill Farmers Market on Saturday — are an important economic lifeline for family-run and organic farms. They need support and protection in an industry dominated by a few multinational companies that are reducing the diversity of animals and plants in our food system.
“We are so fortunate to have year-around farmers markets with a great diversity of products—flowers, fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood,” remarked Roos. “It inspires me to find new recipes for the variety of products.”
Agriculture is one of the top industries in Chatham County but Chatham’s farms are also experiencing pressures from growth. If you are new to Chatham or live in the northeast or eastern part of Chatham, you may not realize the importance of agriculture to Chatham. A visit to the NC State Extension website “Growing Small Farms” provides insight into the industry here.
Agricultural sectors found in Chatham include forestry, fiber, beef, poultry, goat production, various crops, bee keeping, horticulture, and more. Specialized niche nurseries, such as those producing aquatic/wetlands plants, Asian herbs, shady perennials, crinums, daylilies, orchids, and exotic ferns, as well as trees and shrubs are here. There’s also a very strong pollinator gardening program to help support bees and other pollinators that are fundamental to successful farming.
Farmers aren’t the only ones to benefit from the expertise and assistance offered by the NCSU Extension Service. Gardeners will find a wealth of information too.
The Annual Piedmont Farm Tour hosted by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (“CFSA”) is always a great way to learn about local farms but it’s cancelled due to COVID-19. Fortunately, people interested in enjoying fresh, local, seasonal foods can still join a CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”). CSA shares are available from one of the 151 farms on the interactive Google Map provided by CFSA.
The markets operate independently. All have a presence on social media: Facebook and Instagram where one can follow and learn about upcoming events and offerings. Each producer also has an email newsletter that shoppers can sign-up to receive to learn about what vendors will bring to market each week.
The three local year-round markets are:
Fearrington Farmers Market
Tuesdays from 4 to 6 pm
Pittsboro Farmers Market
Thursdays from 3 to 6 pm
Main Street Station in Pittsboro
Chatham Mills Farmers Market
Saturdays from 8 am to Noon
Historic Chatham Mills in Pittsboro
While at the Saturday Chatham Mills Farmers Market, take a moment to explore the Pollinator Paradise
Garden. Tours—virtual and live are also available. Visit the garden’s website for details. for details.