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Bright ideas at market
Fresh produce, friendly folks fill gathering
market WEB 1
Cathy Jo Clipsey, left, buys produce from Sandra Bottoms during a recent gathering of the Cumming Farmers Market near the Cumming Fairgrounds. - photo by Jim Dean

Janice Griggs stepped up to the tables manned by the Kirby brothers after a large zucchini caught her eye.

“You don’t make zucchini bread? Ask this man right here,” Silvy Kirby said, motioning to his brother, Delbert. “He’s got the best zucchini bread recipe in the world.”

Griggs has been visiting the Cumming Farmers Market for about three years to get fresh and locally grown produce. But it’s also the farmers who sell there that keep her coming back.

“The people are great. You learn so much from them,” she said on a recent Saturday morning in the Cumming Fairgrounds parking lot.

The market has been a community staple for about 35 to 40 years, offering space for local growers and residents to come together on Wednesday and Saturday mornings in the summer.

The Kirby brothers, who work about 3 acres in west Forsyth, have been selling out of the back of their truck since the market opened, Silvy Kirby said.

Crowds have grown and prices have risen, he said, but the fun of visiting with shoppers has stayed constant.

Sandra Bottoms said she’s nearing 20 years of bringing fresh produce and canned goods to sell at the market.

Since then, she said the average visitor has changed.

“It used to be that our biggest customers were people wanting to can and store things,” she said.

Now, folks come to pick up produce for weekly meals, and ask questions concerning health issues and farming techniques.

Recent customer Cathy Jo Lipsey said it was “a blessing” to hear that the squash she wanted to buy was natural.

Most of Bottoms’ produce is pesticide and herbicide free, she said, which is something many customers want to hear.

“Ten years ago, people never even asked,” said Bottoms, who grows at her home in north Forsyth.

Her husband’s gardening got her started in canning and selling.

“I needed to do something with his hobby’s byproducts,” Bottoms said. “So I put it in jars.”

Since she’s one of just a few at the market with a state license to sell canned goods, the colorful jars in her tent stand out.

With the numbers of sellers growing at the twice-a-week market, vendors need to do something to set themselves apart.

Phillip Conner took advantage of the new rule this year that permits craft sales.

Behind his table of peppers, Conner built a stand showcasing his wooden birdhouses.

He said he sells crafts as often as produce, but it varies from week to week.

Another attention-getter is to be the first to harvest an item for the season, such as Conner’s display of tomatoes earlier this year.

“As soon as I put them out, they were gone,” he said.

Cheryl Farkas is a new vendor at the market this year. As the bright sunflowers on her table attest, though, she’s caught on to the idea of standing out.

She’s been shopping for 10 years in the parking lot market, but this is her first year making her love of gardening into a business.

Farkas said she most enjoys the freshness of the produce available.

The Cumming Farmers Market requires that all sellers be local and farm their own produce.

“That’s what’s really special about this market,” she said. “They really regulate that.”

Like many of the vendors, Farkas lives in Forsyth County and harvests produce from her garden.

And just because she’s on the other side of the table doesn’t mean she’s not a patron anymore.

On a recent day, Farkas brought jalepeno cheese corn bread muffins, made from fresh corn meal, as well as a recipe from another vendor.

She’s not licensed to sell home-baked goods, but she did share her creation with the others, who became friends after seeing each other week after week during the summer.

“Now that’s fresh,” she said.