Sitting behind their table filled with seasonal vegetables at the Hall County Farmers Market in Gainesville, Joel and Ruth Bowen said they can remember when tomatoes used to be sold for 50 cents a pound.
That was nearly five decades ago.
“We love giving people who can’t have a garden the chance to buy (fresh produce),” Ruth Bowen said. “They tell us they appreciate us.”
Each Tuesday and Saturday, the corner of Jesse Jewell Parkway and East Crescent Drive comes alive with local farmers like the Bowens and visitors eager to get their hands on homegrown fruits and veggies. And on Saturday, July 17, the Hall County Farmers Market will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“Since I’ve been there, I’ve seen it grow in small increments,” Linda Shubert, market manager, said. “This is the best it’s ever been. I’m really proud of how the market has grown.”
Chris Arrington, the market’s board treasurer, said Hall County Farmers Market started small in the early ‘70s at Lakeshore Mall.
Gina Pugh, who has been a customer for decades, said it originally resided near the Belk department store. Years later, she said it moved to the top portion of the property because “they had more room.”
Roy Barnes — who sells vegetables at the market with his twin brother Troy — said he remembers the older space not having shade.
“You were just out in the open,” he recounted.
Hall County Farmers Market 50th anniversary celebration
What: Seasonal market with free hamburgers and hot dogs
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 17
Arrington said in the early ‘90s, all of this changed when Hall County citizens passed a 1% sales tax to build a new facility for local farmers and artisans. The new market, erected in 1992, offers 57 vendor parking spaces under two pole barns that provide ample shade and shelter.
Hall County Farmers Market operates as a nonprofit and keeps a board of eight members.
Local farmers, bakers, beekeepers and crafters can opt to rent a space from May to October or choose to pay for individual days. Depending on the season and harvest, Arrington said the number of vendors fluctuates from year to year.
Shubert said 2021 has proved especially challenging for farmers because of the “spastic weather.” Frost swept through Northeast Georgia in April, taking crops with it.
“I know three or four farmers out here that had to replant three or four times,” she said. “The temperatures were in the 20s, none of the vegetables could survive.”
The Bowens said hail rained upon their vegetables in the spring.
“We had 150-foot rows of beans, and it smashed them down for 15 minutes,” Ruth Bowen said. “They came back up and made more beans than we ever had.”
All farmers at the market are required to grow their own produce in Hall or a surrounding county.
The Barnes twins, who are 73 years old, said they started planting crops together in Mossy Creek upon returning home from the U.S. Army in 1969.
Like most farmers at the market, the twins said they grew up learning how to harvest their own food. Roy Barnes said he started selling produce at the Hall County Farmers Market around five decades ago with his older brother, Rondal, and has carried on the tradition since then. For three years, he has teamed up with Troy at the market, and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“Most of the people, we aggravate the devil out of them. And why they come back, I don’t know,” Roy said, smiling at his twin.
Jack Stephens of Gainesville, said he has been coming to the market for over 15 years. Like many of its longtime customers, Stephens said he comes for the fresh produce, but stays for the people.
Pugh, another market devotee, agrees with this sentiment.
“They grow very good food, but they also are delightful,” she said, gesturing to the farmers. “I mean, look at them.”