Just outside the tiny eastern North Carolina town of Elfland, where the rolling Piedmont hills begin to smooth out toward the coast, pigs, sheep, chickens, and cows roam free on the pastures of Fickle Creek. The 145-acre farm raises livestock and grows produce using sustainable practices, with a commitment to selling their goods within a 25-mile radius of where they’re made.
Twenty-three miles east of the farm, in Durham’s Central Park, the folks from Fickle Creek set up their table once or twice weekly to sell their pasture-raised meats and organically grown produce at the Durham Farmers Market. Each Saturday (plus Wednesday afternoons in warm-weather months), the market welcomes visitors to shop hundreds of products from some 70 vendors. And just like Fickle Creek’s farm-fresh eggs, none travel more than 70 miles to get there.
Even though they’ve seen tremendous growth over the years, that local connection is important to market organizers. “We’ve stayed true to the mission,” says director Erin Kauffman. “It’s an all-local and producer-only farmers’ market. Everything that’s sold here is grown and made by the people who sell it.”
Besides abundant veggies—75 percent of the vendors sell produce, says Kauffman—shoppers can pick up craft cheeses, coffee, freshly baked breads and pastries, homemade pasta, and locally brewed beer.
Chapel Hill Creamery, located just up the road in (you guessed it) Chapel Hill, produces a small range of cheeses as well as several types of pork sausage. Their signature and award-winning Carolina Moon is a Camembert-inspired soft cheese that begins with a light earthy tone that quickly melts to a smooth, buttery finish. Pairing it with a warm slice of hearty sourdough from Chicken Bridge Bakery might change your perception of just how good simple food can be.
The market benefits from proximity to many farms, a benefit they are happy to share with others. Each week, end-of-market food goes to Urban Ministries, while nonprofit Farmers Food Share collects food and cash donations. And through corporate and individual donations, the market doubles food-assistance benefits. “That’s a really important part of our mission: making sure that the whole Durham community has access to fresh, local food,” Kauffman says.
The market is home to several special events throughout the year. Cooking classes from local chefs, growing tips from master gardeners, beekeeping demos, and tastings help visitors learn more about the food they’re purchasing.
Education is a strong focus at the market, too. Kauffman urges all visitors to take a little time to chat with the people who produce their food, who are always happy to explain how and why they do what they do.
Parking for the market is conveniently located across the street. Several food trucks line an adjacent side street, reflecting Durham’s recent emergence as a craft food town. It’s a convenient way to sample ultra-local pizza, sandwiches, and cupcakes.
Unless, of course, you just can’t wait to dig into that sourdough and cheese.