July 21, 2016
Avon Farmer's Market is keeping it fresh for another season

By JOY CRIST



It’s a late Tuesday morning, and a whopper of a thunderstorm has just plowed through the Avon area, running people off the beach and the Avon Pier.

But just minutes after the rain stops and the thunder fades away, vehicles begin pulling into the parking lots of the pier and the neighboring Koru Beach Klub and a crowd of people head to the outdoor farmer's market that’s on full display next to Highway 12.

A few of the vendors have already packed up and left -- as metal tent stands and lightning traditionally don’t mix – but the brave artists, produce suppliers, jewelers, and other craftsmen who stuck around are enjoying a sudden rush of interest as visitors sift through merchandise and pause to ask questions or just chat.

It’s a typical scene in this corner of Avon on a Tuesday morning – minus the thunderstorms – as the Avon Farmer's Market is steadily becoming the place to check out local artists, pick up some fresh produce, and meet and greet with local friends.

Nicole Spruill runs the Coastal Farmers Cooperative stand – one of two produce stands on this particular Tuesday and arguably one of the most popular stalls at the outdoor market. Customers line up along the long row of tables, eyeing heirloom tomatoes, fresh blueberries and raspberries, ears of corn, and fat purple eggplants. It’s a colorful display to be sure, and it’s a miniature veggie-lover’s paradise, as evident by the crowds of people grabbing armfuls of goodies before the rain potentially starts up again.

Spruill and the Coastal Farmers Co-op, which was founded in 2009, has been involved in the farmer's market since the beginning, when the idea was launched by Joanne Throne, the then-president of the Coastal Harvesters. The inaugural seasonal market hopped from venue to venue before finding a permanent home in front of Hatteras Realty in Avon, and recently, in front of the Koru Beach Klub.

And in a few years’ time, the market has noticeably grown.

Regular visitors now look forward to making a market trip part of their weekly vacation for hand-crafted souvenirs, while locals appreciate the opportunity to pick up some local produce, while avoiding the supermarket crowds.

“The business has really picked up a lot this year,” says Nicole. “All of the vendors seem to be happy, and the locals and customers are really appreciative of the fresh food, and the variety.

“People know that it’s here,” adds Nicole, explaining the popularity. “And once that’s in the bag, people will keep coming back.”

The current farmer's market truly is an impressive mix of vendors, showcasing a wealth of local talents. From locally sourced sea salt, to homemade lotions, to local authors, the sheer diversity of what’s available easily turns a quick visit for produce into a long exploration.

Newcomers will recognize some of their favorite artists on display – such as Kim Mosher – and will also have an opportunity to discover some unique talents that are up-and-comers on the Outer Banks scene.

“Our business is entrepreneurship,” says Spruill. “We’re promoting the development of people who can try out their product, and share it with the public.”

And as a result, the Avon Farmer's Market is the perfect venue for craftsmen, artists, and vendors with a talent and a product to share, but who don’t necessarily have a storefront.

Faye Hesketh of Kenzie’s Keepers in Frisco has been a fixture at the Avon Farmer's Market for four years. She specializes in jewelry and accessories with a decidedly chic Boho feel and a little local color, courtesy of homegrown pieces of washed-up sea glass. With a combination of macramé, leather, and local treasures, the sleek necklaces and cool barefoot sandals are popular with trendy shoppers.

“I enjoy making the jewelry itself – I like walking the beach and gathering up the pieces,” she says.

While her works are featured at several galleries around the island, she says that the weekly farmer's market is one of her favorite aspects of her business.

“I love talking to people, and explaining the jewelry as well as the story behind the sea glass itself,” she says. “I do this because it’s fun more than anything else.”

Sue Weeks of 305 West Designs has a nearby stall that’s stocked with beautifully intricate wood-based artworks, and some especially clever pieces like stacks of enlarged “Scrabble Letters” that can be combined to create just about anything – from a "beachy" phrase, to a last name. Today, a row of the finely crafted letters have been lined up to spell out the word “Avon.”

This is Weeks' first year at the farmers market, and though she’s based in Kill Devil Hills, she heard about the market opportunity from a friend in Salvo, and was happy to come aboard.

“It’s been a great experience,” she says. “I love meeting people from other parts of the country, and I love meeting other artists from the Outer Banks. Everyone here is so friendly and helpful.”

“And I love being outside,” she adds, laughing. “Even when it’s rainy, or hot, or both! – like today!”

As it turns out, the “local” vendors come from all areas of the Outer Banks, and not just from Hatteras Island. Kenny Jones lives in Kitty Hawk, but his stunning bird houses – which are hard to miss due to their colorful facades that stand out in the crowd – have a decidedly local flavor.

“I cut driftwood down from the sound [for the perch / outside décor], use metal from old barns in Chesapeake and Moyock for the roofs, and use old decking boards for the wood [frames],” he explains. “…This is my income, and I really enjoy it.”

The local artists take up the bulk of the market to be sure, but the produce stands always seem to be popular stops for market visitors of all varieties.

And while the produce is locally grown whenever possible, often it’s sourced from neighboring and slightly inland areas, such as Currituck County.

Jessie Wray is the other produce vendor at the market that rainy Tuesday morning, and he also has his hands full with a line of people who want to pick up some fresh peaches, corn, or a plump watermelon or two. Wray is from Rodanthe, and also has a farmer's stand in the tri-villages in addition to his weekly market stall.

“Most of our produce comes from local farms,” he says, “although sometimes we’ll get produce from other areas.”

And like all the other vendors at the farmers market, one of the biggest draws for Wray – besides the opportunity to get his goods out to a new wave of people – is the one-on-one interactions.

“I’ve been at the Avon Farmer's Market for about seven years, and I like meeting the people at the stand,” he says. “And they come back, year after year.”

It’s clearly evident that all the market vendors enjoy talking to people, answering questions, and explaining the story behind a particular artwork or technique. On this particular Tuesday, everyone is engrossed in conversations that last a few seconds or a full 15 minutes, as new people pop in to see what’s on display.

The rain clouds seem to have officially parted, and the sunny skies have brought out a last-minute crowd of folks who want to browse or pick up some local goodies before the market officially closes at 1 p.m.

And while the farmer's market is noticeably bigger than previous years – even on this particular Tuesday where the rain temporarily halted the action – Spruill says that there is always room for growth.

“Support is what keeps the market going, and vendors are what keeps people flowing in,” she explains. “No matter how big or how small, we’re always looking for vendors. Local artists, backyard gardeners – everyone is welcome. It’s an open door.”

In fact, vendors are still being accepted for the 2016 summer season, which officially ends on August 30.

In the meantime, the market’s perpetual popularity with visitors and locals alike suggests that the Avon Farmer's Market is here to stay – a welcome fact for shoppers who adore local art, local produce, and a chance to indulge in a little shopping without ever leaving the Avon town limits.

“I think it’s important to the community to keep this alive,” says Nicole, “and we’re always looking for vendors [and new customers] to keep it going.”

HOW TO JOIN IN THE FUN

The Avon Farmers Market is held every Tuesday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. in front of the Beach Klub in the center of Avon. Everyone is welcome.

Vendors who want to participate for the remainder of the 2016 season can fill out an application at https://docs.google.com/a/lsi.biz/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdj_1yPe9h5GlA3zN7xFgaBvR9_-l1DQ1QXXoK0w0pWRYE39g/viewform.

 

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