The block of Carroll Boulevard between Mulberry and Sycamore streets is bustling Saturday mornings even before summer starts, as vendors and farmers are already selling the first picks of produce this season.
At one intersection is Denton Community Market, which features vendors with ready-to-eat food, artwork and fresh produce. The other features Denton County Farmers’ Market, with about a dozen growers and food producers selling until they run out.
The Denton County Farmers’ Market opened earlier than usual this year because of demand and cross-traffic from the community market, said Keith Copp, president of the market. Normally they wait until June 1 and open three days a week, but this year they started the season in April.
“There’s been a higher demand for leafy greens, and that’s one of the things we can bring to market early,” he explained. “By the first of June, we’ll be in full operational mode, but until then it will be a little scattered.”
The local markets are following a national trend, as more farmers markets are popping up across the country. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported there were more than 8,000 farmers markets in the United States, up from 5,000 in 2008. Additionally, local food sales were estimated at $7 billion in 2012, growing from $1 billion in 2005.
The local producers have already noticed higher traffic as well, said Amanda Austin, owner of Cardo’s Farm Project. The farm has 2 1/2 acres near downtown that grows a variety of vegetables without chemicals.
So far, they have brought a lot of salad greens, kale and green onions to their booth at the community market and sales are strong, Austin said.
“This is the biggest year yet,” she said. “In the past, it’s been consistent, but I think this year we’ll be selling more because there are so many more visitors.”
Austin is one of the original vendors from when the Denton Community Market opened four years ago. The market has now grown to more than 50 vendors.
Janet Laminack, county extension agent for horticulture, said a movement toward local food has helped the farmers markets in the area get more customers. By having growers in one central location at a regular time and date, people in the area know where to go to get locally grown food.
“People want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown, not just where it’s from,” she said. “They’re also starting to like the personal connection of knowing who grew your food. At the market, it’s a connection we don’t often have in today’s world — you go to the grocery store and everything has been shipped in on a big truck.”
The growth could continue after this season, Austin said. While there was a slight increase in traffic last year, this year is busier than ever with the help of online promotions and growing awareness, Austin said.
“Before, it seemed like just a handful of folks knew that we were out there, and it feels like this year more people know about us,” she said.
Copp expects his side of the street to pick up more as growers are able to bring in more diverse produce as summer begins. However, some of the more desirable fruits and veggies may be a little later than normal since the area had a harsh winter, he said.
He expects summer squash to be available in the coming weeks, and in June there will be more color and variety in produce, with tomatoes and peaches expected to be ready to pick.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.