By Justin Fenner
Edited by Jamie Lynn Black
Posted on March 25, 2010
The sign in bright blue and brown paint beckons you into the otherwise tan cinder block building near the corner of Whaley Street and Parker Avenue.
Welcome to the All-Local Farmers Market, where every Saturday since last July 4, a community of farmers and shoppers has been coming together.
The market is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Each week 20 to 25 vendors sell fruit, vegetables, flowers, honey, pies, pastries, jelly, bread and even skin care products. Prices vary from $3 packages of sprouts to $9 ravioli.
The market's rules are strict: Vendors must be South Carolina residents, and their products must be South Carolina grown.
"We all have the same kind of goal, to produce healthy, clean food," said Eric McClam, manager of City Roots Farm in Columbia, who sells fresh produce.
The guidelines decree that everything sold at the market "must be of the highest quality." Emile DeFelice, the founder and manager, is the sole guardian of that standard, one he applies to the pork products he sells from his pig farm, Caw Caw Creek in Columbia.
"Finding quality vendors is the issue," DeFelice said. "I don't just let anyone in there."
It's a select group with a singular commitment to good food. DeFelice said the market doesn't receive any foundation or government funding, so the vendors must work together to keep it running.
"We're sort of proud of that. We're not out there with our hands out," said DeFelice, who ran for state agriculture commissioner as a Democrat in 2006.
Vendors rent a space for $15 to $25, depending on the size. Anson Mills, a Columbia grain seller, donates organic grain to every market. Proceeds from selling the grain help keep the lights on.
"Our mission from the beginning was to support local agriculture," said Glenn Robinson, founder of Anson Mills. The mill donates to farmers markets in Atlanta and Charleston, as well as North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.
For customers, the collaborative commitment to community and quality is the biggest draw.
"What we put in our bodies is such an important thing, on top of the taste and the quality of the food," said Shani Gilchrist, a freelance writer and blogger behind the site CamilleMaurice.com, which posts recipes and often includes articles about food.
"Who else is going to look after our food as closely as our neighbors?" she asked.
Jordan Speer, editor-in-chief of Apparel magazine, puts a premium on the taste and quality of her food, though she says she doesn't always shop at the market.
"It's fresher, it supports community, it reduces energy use for having to transport it," said Speer, who bought a box of McClam's snow pea sprouts.
"I bought them because they're really tasty, and I want to support local agriculture," she said.
Patrice Buck, who sells dairy, beef and pork produced at Butter Patch Jerseys, her farm in Saluda, said that when you buy food locally, "You know where your meat comes from; you know where your milk comes from; you meet your farmer and they can tell you how they produced that product."
"And that makes the difference," she said.
Gilchrist said the difference is a more intimate relationship with her food – and with the people who sell it.
"It's not just a shopping experience," she said. "It's more of a way to reach in and connect with what's going on around town."
McClam said the market "produces such a sense of community, not only with the farmers, but with the customers."
"It's a place of meeting; it's a place of interaction and discussion," he said.