To the Market
To the Market
By Rebecca Edwards
Hundreds of people head to the South of the James Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to grab a doughnut or breakfast sandwich, browse the vendors, and take home fresh food, flowers, and other homemade goods. When thinking about the RVA food scene, we couldn’t leave out Richmond’s farmers market community and the people behind CSA.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The way a CSA works is farmers grow food for a predetermined group of consumers who pay an annual fee for their share of the harvest, benefiting both the farmers and the consumers. It provides working capital to farmers up front, which helps to pay for seeds, supplies, and labor. Consumers get back in touch with where their food comes from and receive fresh produce at affordable prices.
“When we started at the 17th Street Farmers Market, it was the only market in Richmond,” says Amy Hicks, owner of Amy’s Garden, a certified organic farm. That was nearly 20 years ago. “Back then, we were answering a lot of questions about what organic means.” A lot has changed since then. Now, there are 25 markets in the greater Richmond area. “Markets serve as opportunities to support local businesses and farmers, and people are starting to understand why that’s important,” says Sarah Bartenstein, the Director of Communications for Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, including their weekly farmers market. Amy adds, “Buying locally is helping to keep the money in the community. At a market, the farmers are getting most of every dollar, making their businesses viable.”
One of Sarah’s favorite elements of the market is the community it fosters. “I love seeing a family decide to make a morning out of it, or friends meeting for breakfast. It’s a wonderful way to reconnect.” Amy agrees: “Being at the market is my favorite part of being in this business. It’s gratifying to know that you are providing good, healthy fruits and vegetables, and people are eating and enjoying them.” This sentiment is echoed by Autumn Campbell, owner of Tomten Farm. “It’s about those customers who are dedicated to getting their food at the market; they are excited about vegetables, just like me.”
As entrepreneurs seeking community, some of their favorite relationships are those that have been developed at the market with other vendors. “Farming can be isolating, so I count on those friendships,” says Amy. Farming is a difficult trade, but its purveyors often have a passion for the work. “It’s challenging and never boring. You are always trying to figure out the best way to do something, even after doing it for years. It keeps you very engaged. At the heart of it, we know that the things we grow – our job – is important. We need to eat,” says Amy. Autumn adds, “There is also something really honorable in the tradition of working hard. I am driven by the challenge of farming and the fight to succeed. Farming is a craft that requires you to slow down and be adaptable.”
Owner, Amy’s Garden
Amy’s Garden grew from a backyard garden in Westover Hills to a regular vendor at farmers markets to a business that offers a CSA and sells at Ellwood Thompson’s. “It kind of just blossomed,” Amy says. Amy and her husband, George, now farm ten acres in Charles City, participate in multiple markets, and manage a CSA.
Director of Communications, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Sarah touts the Farmers Market at Saint Stephen’s and its great mix of vendors and laid back atmosphere. “We have lots of foot traffic, people ride their bikes, and dogs are welcome.” Sign up for their weekly newsletter for market updates and recipes.
owner, Tomten Farm
Years ago, Autumn worked in the specialty coffee industry and was inspired by how quality was impacted by agricultural practices at the source. Now, she and her partner, Brian, run a small vegetable farm in Prince Edward County. In addition to participating in markets and having a CSA program, they regularly sell to some of the city’s most well-known restaurants, like Dutch & Co, Heritage, Brenner Pass, and Sub Rosa.