The sun slowly rises and warms the chilly fall morning. It’s 8 a.m. on a November Saturday and vendors at the Oconee Farmers Market (OFM) are setting up behind the Eagle Tavern Museum, unloading and arranging their local fall produce and goods.
For the second time in eight years, the citizen-managed market is staying open late into the fall, offering homegrown, fresh provisions to families for the quickly approaching holidays.
In previous years the market closed after Watkinsville’s fall festival, held in October. Last year was the first year the market continued to operate after the festival, staying open until the first week in December at the requests of vendors.
From humble beginnings
The market originally opened with five to six vendors on the front lawn of the Eagle Tavern Museum, but due to a growth in the number of vendors the market has relocated to the back lawn.
“We have a total of 35 vendors that come at least sometime during the season,” said Russ Page, Board President of the OFM. “The most we have had on any given weekend is in the 25-30 range and it just depends on how the vegetables are going.”
Although the number of vendors peaks in the spring and summer months, there are still many late summer and fall vegetables available as Thanksgiving approaches.
A variety of vendors
“We are at the end of the season. Mary Ann has peppers and sweet potatoes, some fall vegetables,” said Page, who sells Senepol beef, a heat tolerant, grass-fed cattle breed.
Mary Ann Simmons, a farmer and piano teacher, has been selling fresh produce and homemade treats at the market since it began in 2004.
On this breezy fall morning, Simmons displays a wide variety of vegetables, including beans, radishes, sweet potatoes and bell peppers available in green, red or yellow. She also tempts shoppers with homemade peanut brittle and banana bread this month.
Fresh sweet potatoes are great for holiday meals, said Simmons.
Aldo Ramos of Sunshine Farms, located in Monroe, presides over an array of seasonal vegetables. Ramos offers six types of tomatoes, from heirloom varieties to Early Girl, as well as onions, spicy peppers, bell peppers, apple empanadas and homemade jams using Sunshine Farms fruits.
Many vendors, including Sunshine Farms, are Certified Naturally Grown farms and do not use synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics or hormones in their crops.
Covenant Valley Farms sells Certified Naturally Grown honey at the market. Located in Colbert and operated by Annie and Nolan Kennedy, the farm produces two types - wildflower and sourwood. In holiday meals, honey can be used in pies, warm teas or mixed with cream cheese as a dip for vegetables, said Annie Kennedy.
More than just produce
In addition to produce, holiday gifts are also available.
Covenant Valley Farms makes flavored lip balms including honey, piña colada, black cherry and peppermint. Hallowed Hawk Farm sells sheep’s milk soaps and naturally colored or dyed yarn and blankets from their sheep’s wool.
Dory Franklin, a farmer at Hallowed Hawk Farm, says they make several soaps -- including crème de menthe and orange ginger -- specifically for the fall and winter seasons.
The gifts are unique, but food is the main lure for customers who come to the market on Saturday mornings.
“As long as they have vegetables, we’ll be here,” Page said. Pausing for a moment, he reflects on the one traditional Thanksgiving food that is not available: turkey.
“Maybe we need to look for a vendor that does poultry,” he said with a grin.