Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith Lyn Gossage pulls weeds in her heirloom tomato seedlings at her greenhouse. Gossage will be on hand with her wares when the Porterdale Farmers' Market kicks off a new season later this month.
PORTERDALE -- There's nothing quite like biting into a cool, juicy, fresh-picked tomato when the summer sun is bearing down. Store-bought tomatoes, let's be honest, just aren't the same.
Newton residents now have an opportunity to buy locally-grown produce, flowers and home-baked goods every Saturday beginning March 24 at the Porterdale Farmers' Market. The market will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon through October at Porterdale's historic Train Depot. This is the second season for the market, and this year organizers are ramping up promotion and are offering several new features.
Market Manager Helen Weitkamp said she was pleased with last year's turnout, but is hoping this year more people will be aware of the market and attendance will improve.
"You don't know the success or failure of a farmer's market until you've been there three years. It's kind of a slow-growing, organic process. This year, we have a lot of things planned," she said. Those plans include a screening of the movie "GROW!" a documentary about young Georgia farmers and a tomato-tasting contest.
Lyn Gossage is coming back for a second season at the market. Gossage grows hydrangeas, gardenias, cacti and other plants and flowers in a greenhouse at her home off Flat Shoals Road. Gossage also makes treats like chocolate oatmeal and peanut butter cookies, banana bread and Gruyere cheese bread using only organic ingredients. Gossage packages the goodies in biodegradable wrapping that can be tossed right onto the compost pile upon opening.
Gossage uses no processed ingredients in her baking, opting for pure cane sugar over refined.
While she said she believes there is renewed interest in locally grown and organic food, it's taking a while for the Newton County community to recognize that's available just a few miles down the road at the market.
"It's been a slow start," she said of the Porterdale Farmers Market. "We hope people will become more aware."
Huxley Jackson owns a family farm right across the county line in Henry County. Most of his property is used for growing timber these days, but a few years ago, he decided to expand the family vegetable garden and see if he could make extra dollars selling cabbage, squash and more at the local farmers' market.
Jackson said his food is pesticide free and full of flavor. He, too, said the demand for organic food is increasing because, "You know where it's coming from. When you get it at grocery store, you don't know where it's coming from."
There is more demand for farmers markets in large cities than in more rural areas like Newton, Jackson said, an irony, given that this area used to be all agricultural land.
One way of raising more local awareness is by expanding the market's online presence. Farmers now also can participate in the Locally Grown network started in Athens. Farmers list their available produce and other wares on the website, www.porterdale.locallygrown.net and customers can go on the site and place an order. All orders placed before 9 p.m. on Wednesdays will be delivered to the market for pick-up between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturdays.
Weitkamp said this service is convenient for customers who like to plan ahead.
"You can do meal planning around an online order, whereas if you show up at the market, you don't know what's going to be there or if it's sold out already. This way, you know what you're getting for the rest of the week. We have more farmers that are able to participate in that because there's no risk for them. Everything that's harvested has already been sold," Weitkamp said.
In hopes of building up a customer base, the Porterdale Farmers Market will also set up at an empty parcel along Ga. Highway 81 adjacent to the Oxford Post Office between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday evenings.
The Porterdale Farmers Market is seeking vendors for this season. For more information and to download an application, visit www.portedalefarmersmarket.com or call Weitkamp at 770-788-9120.