First Posted: 6/19/2014

ROCKINGHAM — Vendors say the Rockingham Downtown Farmers Market’s new location in the former R.W. Goodman Co. parking lot and its new Wednesday hours have drawn additional buyers to the open-air produce stands.

Thunder rumbled west of town Wednesday afternoon and the skies appeared to darken as the tents shimmied in gusts of hot wind. Hosea Huitron of David’s Produce hung a sign in front of his tent and poured crushed ice over the carrots, beets and broccoli to keep them fresh in the 96 degree heat.

Market manager Laura Greene said the change of venue from Harrington Square to the parking lot has its benefits and disadvantages.

“We have more to offer this year,” Greene said. “Our vendors can now set up under these tents and there’s more area to work with. We have some new tables and some chairs and a lot of our vendors are still bringing their own tables. They set up their areas themselves because that way they can have it like they like it, but I have to get here early and get the tents up.”

Residents who missed out on Wednesday will have another chance to sample local growers’ offerings Saturday. The market is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

The farmers’ market received a $10,600 community transformation grant to pay for the new tents, advertising and new tables and chairs, according to Susan Kelly, Richmond County extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

The city of Rockingham leases the parking lot from Ken Goodman for $300 per month, from May through October, exclusively for use by the farmers’ market. It also rents a portable toilet for the market, which costs about $63 per month.

“I think it’s important to do this for the farmers market,” said City Manager Monty Crump. “Anything we can do to support more activities downtown and get more people involved is a good investment. I think David’s Produce wanted to stop coming out, but I’m glad to see they’re still there. I encouraged them to stick around. It takes a little while for something to get started, but things tend to pick up.”

Crump also said that the locally grown produce is just beginning to come down, so people can expect more vendors to join in as the amount of fruits and vegetables available increases.

One advantage of the new location is that it’s out of the way of traffic. The square is a busy area and speeding cars were frequently cited as being problematic to vendors and shoppers, Greene explained.

“They’d just come flying around those corners,” Greene said. “But here, you can see the way they’ve roped off the entrances to the parking lot. No cars can come in here, and they can park up and down the street and just walk over.”

The parking lot entrances are the only places with concrete drives. The rest is bounded on two sides by sidewalks, one side by trees and vegetation and one side by another business. The ground between the roadside parking spaces and the sidewalks is not even in many places, so walking into the parking lot can be a challenge for some, Greene said.

“The one problem I would like people to be aware of here is that we have a lot of elderly people who shop. We do sometimes have people in wheelchairs,” Greene said. “There’s no smooth way to get in here for certain people. I just want people to know to be careful.”

Greene said she’s seen a few close calls, but no one has actually fallen so far.

Barbara Watkins of Watkins World of Art, a jewelry designer and vendor, said she’s had some success at the farmers market.

“I’ve never done this before this year,” Watkins said. “This is my first venture. Everything takes time, but it’s been done very well. I have fun making jewelry, it keeps me out of trouble. Also, my earrings are hypoallergenic stainless steel and copper-free. That’s important to a lot of people, and I think they buy my earrings because of that.”

Greene said the Wednesday hours and the move took a little while to catch on, but she offered reasons for optimism.

“Wednesday business has really picked up, and people are getting used to us being here now,” she said.