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Fresh, local produce isn’t the only thing to be discovered at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market, which returns Saturday, May 5 for its 24th year.

Also awaiting discovery is a connection to the food we eat, said Joan Engelhardt, manager of the vendor-operated, nonprofit market since 2009.

“Back in the day, before we had this massive food distribution system, you could only get certain foods at certain times of the year,” she said. “The market is an opportunity for people to understand how your food gets here and meet the people who grow it.”

 

The market, held at First Baptist Church from 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays between May-November, looks nothing like it did in 1994, its first year, when a handful of locals gathered at Town Hall to sell fruits and vegetables to a few customers. Now a thriving community each Saturday morning, it flourished under the guidance of a former Black Mountain couple.

“From 1995 on, Harry and Elaine Hamil took it over,” Engelhardt said. The Hamils operated the Black Mountain Farmers Market in the building now occupied by Roots & Fruits Organic Market. The Hamils ran it through 2008, when Elaine stepped back. (In 2014, the couple moved to Virginia, where Elaine passed away last May.) 

A five-member board of directors was established to run the market in 2008. Engelhardt was brought on to manage it the following year.

Today there are 26 member vendors, including Highlander Farm of Fairview and Cove Creek Nursery Farm of Old Fort. The additional 14 spaces in the grassy field at the church are occupied by a rotating cast of day vendors.

“We require people to be a day vendor for a year before becoming a member,” Engelhardt said. “We’re a producer-only market, so everything has to be made by the person selling. We like to keep a balance between food and crafts.”

Around 75 percent of the fruit and vegetables at the market is grown nearby, which allows customers a chance to talk to the people who grow it. 

“The quality of food you’re getting is what’s important to me,” Engelhardt said. “This isn’t sprayed, and there are no pesticides. All of our growers use sustainable methods, and it shows in good clean produce.”

Becki Janes has been a member of the Black Mountain Tailgate Market since 2010. Her 6,000-square-foot garden, Becki’s Bounty, is located in a quiet residential neighborhood about a mile away from the church that hosts the market.

“I probably have the smallest acreage of any of the vendors at the market,” Janes said taking a break from working in her garden. “So I’m very sustainable. I do everything here, I compost all year long and feed it back into the garden.”

Known for her heirloom tomatoes, Janes will also bring “a pretty standard array of vegetables” to the first market of the season, she said. There she'll see customers who have been buying her produce since she started her garden.  

“My whole footprint is within about a seven-mile radius, as far as the customers I serve,” she said. 

Janes believes the market site, First Baptist, adds to the sense of community that has developed there over the years. 

"More and more churches are recognizing that part of their mission is to feed the hungry," she said. "They're joining up with organizations that work to relieve food insecurity."

It's a welcoming atmosphere largely because of the vendors, according to Engelhardt.

"We've been very fortunate to have a great group of people involved," she said. "The vendors all understand it's not all about them selling their stuff, it's also about what's good for the market as a whole. It's a very collaborative group."

This year the market will feature more ready-to-eat food, so customers will have something to munch on while shopping. 

"We've got Dillon Stockman back - he was there a couple of years ago - and he'll be making egg sandwiches," she said. "Roots & Fruits will also be there selling bone broth, which is a big deal these days."

There will also be live music, a tradition that adds to the market's appeal. Though the feel of a small-town tailgate market makes for a great atmosphere, the star of the market is the food, according to the manager.

The market is "one of the few places where you can still do a face-to-face transaction with the people who grow it," she said.

 

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