Editor’s Note: Adventures in the Qcity is a series that spotlights local destinations in the Charlotte area. Click here to read about others we’ve featured.

In an empty parking lot the vendors set up early: A young man and an older man pulling barrels of produce from a pickup truck. A women and a young boy sliding racks of clothing from an SUV.

Soon, customers begin to arrive — families in minivans and curious shoppers on foot – all looking for bargains.

Every month on the second and fourth Saturdays, this patch of asphalt at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Beatties Ford Road in west Charlotte is turned into a small farmers market.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., residents along the Historic West End Corridor can pick from locally grown corn, fresh fruits, potatoes and vegetables. Other vendors sell baked goods or African apparel.

“We did this to give a valuable alternative to what you find in grocery stores,” said Carrie Gibson, who retired as an administrator from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and now runs the farmers market as part of the Social Justice Ministry at Friendship.

“As a whole, we are becoming far more sensitive in terms of what we eat, how we eat, good nutrition, exercise – all of that is a part of it,” she said. “Plus, we also have to be aware of pesticides – things we are putting into our foods – additives — that’s really causing a lot of the health concerns we now have, especially in the African American community.”

Like others in Charlotte who are concerned about nutrition, Gibson said too many residents in minority communities lack easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, they often rely on neighborhood stores that sell pre-packaged foods high in fat and sodium.

In 2010, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council sponsored a survey that found that 72,793 county residents lived within what researchers call a “food desert” – areas that had no full-service grocery store. The majority of those residents were in the northwest corridor, the study found.

To encourage healthier eating –and to reduce the prevalence of diseases associated with obesity and unhealthy diets — advocates have pushed for better access to fresh produce.

The Friendship Market began in 2009 and now has four primary vendors, including Richard Gillespie, co-owner of J&R Farms in Cheraw, S.C.

On a recent Saturday, Gillespie arrived at the market in a truck loaded with watermelons, cantaloupes, corn, sweet potatoes and honey from his own beehives. He described J&R Farms as a family venture –one he didn’t always appreciate when he was growing up.

“In my day,” he said, “people had their own farms, now mega markets have taken over. If you live in the middle of the city, you’re not going to get a proper diet.”

Gillespie said he and his brothers have been farming since they were kids, and their dad farmed since 1910. On this day, his nephew was helping him at the Friendship Market.

Gillespie, 68, said he returned to farming after retiring as a computer analyst. He wasn’t the only South Carolina farmer represented at the market.

Angelyn Finley, 19, came representing Young’s Produce, a business her grandmother co-heads. All of the fruits and vegetables are grown on a family farm in Cayce, S.C., she said.

Finley said she learned farming as a small child at the feet of her mother, uncles, and cousins, and she sees no reason to give it up now.

“It’s like a family legacy,” she said, “Somebody has to pass it on…”

Not all the Friendship Market vendors are selling food. Tonieh Ross, own of Virtuous D Boutique on Sardis Road North, brought an assortment of women’s clothing, handbags and jewelry – all with an African theme.

Ross, who was born and raised in Liberia, said she and her daughter are both designers. Their products are sewn by tailors in Charlotte and Liberia, she said.

Ross spoke with Qcitymetro while managing a steady stream of lookers. She said this was her first Saturday selling at the Friendship Market.

“I have met some interesting people here,” she said.

Gibson, who organizes the market, said what the market needs most are more vendors and customers.

“We just need people to come here and patronize these individuals and farmers, who not only grow their food but work with other farmers to bring this to market here at the church,” she said.

As for vendors, Gibson said she is looking for small entrepreneurs, “people who are looking to get started…people who want to make a living doing something they are passionate about.”

Gibson can be reached at cgibson@friendshipcharlotte.com. The market will be in operation though September.

“We’re just going to pray that this market takes off,” she said.
Getting There: Friendship Market is located in the south parking lot of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church at 3400 Beatties Ford Rd. From the uptown Transit Center, walk to Bay L and take bus 7. Get off directly in front of the church. From the Rosa Parks Place Community Transit Center, take bus 201.

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