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Downtown market draws produce lovers to square
Luba Rusk of Luba’s Greenhouse and Kori Teague bag produce for a customer Friday at the Market on the Square in downtown Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

Families piled out of their cars to snag veggies while they lasted.

At the corner of Main and Spring streets, a handful of farmers brought out their first fruits for this season’s first Historic Downtown Gainesville Market On The Square.

“This is our first time coming here, and we’ve lived in the area for two years,” said Brenda Johnson, with her husband, Greg. “It all looks wonderful, and the customers are enthusiastic, suggesting what we should try.”

The couple didn’t know what to expect but carried away a jar of preserves and a bunch of cucumbers.

“Oh, we’ll be back next week for the apple bread,” she said with a smile.

This year, the Friday Farmers’ Market has become a separate event from the Hall County Farmers Market and changed the name to become an “offshoot” from last year and create its own identity, market manager Steven Thomas said.

“We did a survey last year and found there’s a different clientele base here than the regular Hall County market,” he said. “And sometimes these people come Friday, buy food and realize they want more for the weekend, and go to the Saturday market, so it’s really adding on.”

On Friday, the booths offered up vegetables, peaches, breads, herbs and plants. Thomas said he hopes the market will expand throughout the summer to include cooking demonstrations from local chefs and musical entertainment from local acoustic bands.

“I found last year that if you grab some of the produce that people bring and cook it there, visitors will go and buy it right then,” Thomas said. “My recipes are simple to do at home. Last year I showed a simple pesto, and every basil plant was sold. Then I used eggplant in a salad, and about 100 were sold.”

Following the U.S. Department of Agriculture “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, Thomas wants to start an educational program to bring students out to the market.

“I want some kids to meet the farmers and see how they do it,” he said. “They need to know that their food comes from the ground, not from a grocery store.”

In the long run, the market could include locally produced cheeses, meat and fish and expand to a year-round event.

“Everyone wants a farmer’s market,” Thomas said, indicating the success in Roswell and Suwanee and newly developing markets in Spout Springs and Oakwood. “But there aren’t enough farmers to go around, and our farmers need places to sell.”

For vendor Luba Rusk, it all started with an abundance of blueberries.

“I didn’t know what to do with them, so I asked if I could sell, and that was my first year without a plan,” Rusk said. “This is my third year, and I’m going all out.”

As Rusk pulled out a stock of squash, cucumbers and plants, she pointed to the social reasons why many people head to the square on Fridays.

“I love talking to people,” she said. “I get to meet new people, but I’ve also reconnected with people I haven’t seen in 20 years.”

The market opens at 2:30 p.m. every Friday through Oct. 1.

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