It’s been a long time coming, but Charlotte’s Northwest Corridor is about to get a farmers market. To be more precise, I should say the Rosa Parks Farmers Market opened to the public on Tuesday, June 7 – a trial run of sorts – but will have its official opening and ribbon cutting on Tuesday, June 21.
The market will be open each Tuesday in the parking lot of the Mecklenburg County Health Department office at 2845 Beatties Ford Road from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Like all such markets, it will carry a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as some vendor-produced packaged foods. In addition, the Health Department and some of its community partners will have booths at the location to distribute health- and food-related pamphlets and will host healthy cooking demonstrations.
The market is one of many Health Department initiatives to promote healthy eating, especially in low-income communities where supermarkets and fresh produce are often scarce.
In a nod to that effort, the Rosa Parks market, unlike some others, will accept residents who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.
Why Rosa Parks?
The Health Department facility that will host the market sits at the corner of Beatties Ford Road and Rosa Parks Place. But there were other reasons as well to select the name of the civil rights icon who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white man as prescribed by Jim Crow laws at the time.
“The name is in keeping with the spirit and the momentum that this areas was building in it being named Rosa Parks Place,” said Reggie Singleton, a health policy coordinator with the county. “We also believe that, just as Ms. Rosa Parks felt that people having access to public accommodations is a civil rights issue, we also believe that food sovereignty – people having fresh, affordable culturally appropriate food – is a human rights issue as well as a civil rights issue.”
When the grand opening is held, Ms. Parks’ niece, Sheila McCauley Keys, will be in Charlotte to help celebrate the occasion.
In addition to the health department, the market will be governed by a 25-member advisory committee made up of spiritual and business leaders, government employees, veterans, community activists and others, Singleton said.
Why open on Tuesdays?
As it turns out, farmers selling fresh produce are in hot demand, and many are already committed on Saturdays to more well-established markets. Organizers of the Rosa Parks market also wanted to recognize that farmers harvest food – and people require food – throughout the week, and not just on Saturdays.
Opening on Tuesday allows the market to attract “a dream team of farmers,” Singleton said.
“Right now this is a start,” Singleton added. “We believe we will be more perfect in the future, but it is a start right now… This will become an institution.”
The market has recruited farmers from within a 50-mile radius, including some African American growers. The market also will include produce grown by the Johnson C. Smith University agricultural program as well as youth farmers from Garinger High School.
Singleton said the market will seek to serve three customer groups – patients and families that come to the adjoining health department facility, employees who work there, and residents who live in the nearby community, where 90.4 percent of the people are African American.
Singleton said including black farmers was vital to the market’s overall success and objectives.
“We want to ensure that African Americans are participating on all levels of the food system, to include the growing and production, the processing and distribution in addition to the consumption,” he said. “We’re not interested in that old dynamic of being consumers only. We’re being very forward thinking in assessing the need for this corridor to really repair and fix its broken system, this food system that we have.”
Singleton said he also hopes the market will “recruit, educate and encourage aspiring, black farmers in the future.”
Market Etiquette 101
J’Tanya Adams, who heads Historic West End Partners, said she hopes customers won’t haggling over the price of fresh, locally grown food – a problem her organization encountered several years back when its organized a short-lived market at another Beatties Ford Road location.
“When someone is a local grower, growing organically and bringing their product directly to you…you have to respect the price points,” she said. “Those who desire local, fresh foods cannot compare locally grown products that a master grower is going to bring to a venue to the pricing that they may get at a big-box store.
She added: “We want to retain these farmers. It’s very, very hard to get farmers. Everybody is scrambling for them; everyone wants a fresh market. So if the West End really wants a fresh market, then our base has to understand the nature of the model.”
Photos: Courtesy of the Mecklenburg County Health Department.