On sunny, spring days, Charlotte’s outdoor farmers markets can’t be beat. Freshness abounds in every color: from sublimely red strawberries and shocks of green salad to snow white turnips and purple potatoes. It’s that rare shopping destination where you can be within inches of the people who actually grew the food, crafted a product, or foraged for it.
But my favorite thing about markets? They are prime places to snap up unusual products — the best of which come along with a good story.
Here are some recent finds on a visit to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market (1801 Yorkmont Rd), the queen mama of area markets, housed under its four giant, open-sided sheds.
(1) Carnivores rejoice.
First stop, Anne Cain’s stand (Building A). She’s got hard-to-find goat meat for sale, raised on her 40-acre Yadkin county farm. GMO-free, her livestock feed on hay rather than corn or soy. A former artisan goat cheese maker, she switched to meat production when the economy tanked in 2008.
Decorators take note: Cain also sells NC Longhorn skulls and their hides on behalf of the butcher who prepares her goat meat.
She rounds out her offerings with Wild Oyster mushrooms and Turkey Tail mushrooms, which she forages for on her family’s century farm. Cain takes an appreciative whiff of the earthy, rich-smelling mushrooms as she packs them up for sale.
“Last year was the worst year for mushrooms,” she says. “Climate change is just boogering up the wild mushroom population.”
(2) Look out for shotguns.
But climate change isn’t the only thing to fear when it comes to wild foods, according to Cyrus Brooks of Brooks Fresh Farm Produce (Building B). He says people actually stand guard with shotguns to ward off thieves from their patches of ramps — also known as wild leeks — that chefs prize and pay hefty sums to acquire.
“They are a delicacy,” says Brooks.
Grown in the rich soil of mountainside deciduous forests, ramps are only available for about 1.5 months in the spring. You can find them at Brooks’s stand (for the moment, at least) — alongside such oddities as green cantaloupe and white sweet potatoes.
(3) Going, going gone.
Another seasonal treasure, asparagus, can be found right now, courtesy of Carrigan Farms (Building C). What makes it special?
“It’s 10,000 miles fresher,” says William Carrigan, pinpointing the difference between his family’s offerings and the imported stalks you find in most supermarkets. If you don’t make it in time for asparagus, Carrigan and his sister, Elizabeth, recommend coming to their Mooresville-area farm for strawberries, pick your own apples, and a swim in the 25-foot deep quarry.
(4) Say goodbye to flies and other pests.
Among the hundreds of lush plants and flowers on display in the greenery shed (Building E), one particular planter stood out for its carnivorous inhabitants, including Venus flytraps and pitcher plants. Beautiful, exotic and somewhat terrifying — just don’t feed them any goat meat, no matter how much they beg …
Of course, what’s here one day will be replaced by something else the next; that ephemeral quality keeps things interesting at the market. Better hurry if you want to snag some of these items.
Tuesday–Saturday: 8 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday: Noon–6 p.m.
Photos: Rémy Thurston; Liz Bertrand