A few diehard small farmers are back at the Sampson County Farmers Market, again with produce to sell and optimistic for a larger turnout.
The Farmers Market opened last week with a handful of farmers at the Clinton City Market on Lisbon Street in Clinton. The market will be open on Wednesday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Vendors are welcome, even people who have crafts or make things,” said Richard Aman, who is now heading the coordination of the market endeavor, which has struggled to gain significant traction over the years. “I’m going to push it hard now.”
Aman has applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) machine, through which the market and its vendors can accept EBT/food stamps. Along with Aman, local farmer and market stalwart Leslie Williams is at the market. Curtis Cummings, also at the market through the years, is also expected to return, Aman said.
“Me and Mr. Williams were out there,” said Aman of last week’s opening. “I was selling plants and had some cucumbers, potatoes … we had right much stuff.”
That variety also included cauliflower, turnips, lettuce and greens, with the selection set to grow as the season progresses. Tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, cabbage, Pak choi (Chinese cabbage), broccoli and onions are also some of the regular commodities on Aman’s Mini Farm, located on West Darden Road off U.S. 701, about 10 miles north of Clinton.
“We’ve got it going on,” Aman remarked. “We’ve got broccoli in the field that is about 3 and a half feet tall already, so we have a lot of stuff growing.”
Since its inception, the Sampson Farmers Market has aimed to serve as a forum where locally handmade and homegrown goods could be sold directly to consumers in an effort to promote those homegrown ingredients and products. In recent years, the market has held hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in hopes of capitalizing on the lunch rush.
However, those limited hours aren’t conducive to long-term success, Aman attested. It is crucial for farmers to be there — and plan to stay all day, he noted.
“You don’t want to cut the customers out. I think it could do great. It doesn’t need to be shut down all the time. If you look at markets like the one in Raleigh, it’s open 365 days, 24 hours a day. They don’t take days off. If you go to Walmart at 10 a.m. and find out they’re only open 11 to 1, you’re going to go somewhere else and get what you need.”
In recent years, it has been Aman who has ushered in the new market season. He has the Farmer’s Market signs at his home to prove it. He takes the plastic placards with him to and from the market when he goes. Aman and Williams are a couple of the mainstays at the market. Williams has been there since its inception, while Aman was approached by Homer Marshall to join the cooperative the following year.
Aman jumped at the chance.
Marshall’s involvement in the market has diminished in recent years and, this year, Aman has stepped up.
“I may even form my own co-op. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m going to do,” Aman said. “I’m trying to get all this little stuff out of the way first.”
At the local market, Aman has displayed cucumbers along with a variety of pepper plants, tomatoes, sage, sweet mint, dill, lavender and rosemary, among other products. He has attributed some of his early yield, notably the tomatoes, to being produced from a hot house. A high tunnel was installed at his farm last year that will help extend the growing season.
And Aman’s Mini Farm’s effort are not lost on those it serves, which include deliveries from 50 miles away to the market and their involvement with Feast Down East. They also sell to several local Piggly Wigglys.
He credited word of mouth through the local market and especially Feast Down East in Burgaw, a program that links small-scale farmers with local markets who can use that fresh produce, a valuable partnership. Feast Down East supplies to restaurants and institutions in Myrtle Beach, Carolina Beach, Morehead City and the surrounding area.
He sold a bushel of habanero peppers through Feast Down East last year in next to no time. Other peppers, including jalafuego, cayenne and cubanelle, are also a hot commodity that has come from the field off West Darden Road. Along with his many varieties of peppers and other produce, Aman has had napa cabbage, watermelons, black beauty eggplants, carrots, rutabagas and Texas super sweet onions just to name a few.
“You name it, we have it in the field,” he said. “Just about anything you can think about.”
He said the Farmers Market helps supplement that income, and meet the demand with local supply. It is about networking and getting your name, face and product out there.
“The Farmers Market helps me out a lot. A lady will be out there buying two or three tomatoes and a cucumber, and she’ll ask ‘where can I get a bushel?’ And I’ll say ‘you can get them from me.’ If they buy them from me, I’ll deliver them.”
He delivered five bushels of tomatoes over to Basstown just from a transaction at the Farmers Market. Another customer requested two or three bushels of peppers and another wanted several bushels of potatoes. All vendors who set up at the market have that same opportunity.
“The Farmers Market helps get rid of that (supply),” he said. “The people have seen the signs out there and have started drifting back in.”
With the help of his daughter, Aman also plans to contact the Center for Health and Wellness, Sampson Regional Medical Center and others about putting on health, nutrition and exercise clinics at the market, as have been held in the past years.
Aman was optimistic that the tide could turn for the Sampson market. He is going to be there, and hopes he is accompanied by others. The hours he held personally last year at the market have now become the regular operating hours.
“I’m not going to let it slide anymore. It’s gotta go up now. It’s been down,” said Aman, who again cited sporadic and limited hours as a likely reason for that decline. “Some of these guys were coming in at 11 a.m. and leaving at 1 or 1:30 … I was the only one staying all day. Some people didn’t know I was there, until they came by.”
Aman’s yield is only getting larger and more diverse thanks to the dedicated two-man operation that he runs with his cousin, Lester Aman Jr., known as “Junior.” The operation is growing — in yield and in manpower.
“We’re trying to expand and work it as hard as we can,” Aman said. “We’ve been working seven days a week on this thing and we’re getting there. We had to start hiring people to help put plants in. We have a one-row planter and we keep three or four people busy running that thing.”
Aman said he hopes that he, Williams, Cummings and others can help breathe new life into the market. A decent season last year was curtailed by Hurricane Matthew.
“Last year, we were going to run it until December but it didn’t work out because Matthew came through and destroyed our stuff,” Aman said. “It shredded the cucumber vines and tore up the pepper and everything else. We sold okra and bell peppers to Feast Down East up until November, but trying to fill those orders we didn’t have enough for the market.”
Aman said he wants many others to take advantage of the Clinton City Market facility this year, both farmers and patrons alike, with the thought that supporting and buying local helps everybody involved.
Those interested in being part of the market can call Richard Aman at Aman’s Mini Farm, 919-539-9685.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.