Elon Community Church’s weekly farmer’s market has been drawing in growers, bakers and makers for over a decade. The front of the church comes alive with business every Thursday afternoon.
Sourdough bread and jams, locally grown vegetables, a lemonade stand and newly added hydroponic lettuce are all available at the market.
Bob Martin, adjunct assistant professor of business law, runs a table at the market in partnership with Your Local Greens, a hydroponic plant in Burlington. According to Martin, the profits from the lettuce go towards a new program in partnership with the church to make the farmer’s market more accessible for people with Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. This connection will allow welfare recipients to spend their benefits on food and other items.
“What we’ve done is sell [the lettuce] at a retail rate with the proceeds going to our farmer’s market fund,” Rev. Randy Orwig, a senior pastor at Elon Community Church, said. “The farmer’s market fund funds [the] EBT. We are now able to take EBT cards here.”
Orwig said the market also has attempted to offset the high prices of locally grown produce by matching any EBT card by spending dollar-for-dollar. Any money spent on an EBT card at the market will be doubled by the church.
According to Martin, the main attraction of the lettuce is that it’s grown hydroponically, without soil in a mineral-rich water mixture. Your Local Greens grows their lettuce without pesticides in a sterile environment.
“People love it,” Martin said. “We’ll get 40 pounds, and we’ll be sold out in an hour.”
According to Martin, the lettuce is selling well, bringing in $240 a week. Despite this success, Orwig says the community outreach aspect is still getting off the ground.
The church is struggling to attract EBT card users and other people who are typically driven away from farmer’s markets by high prices.
“What we’re realizing is that it’s going to take some time to build up clientele,” Orwig said. “A lot of people believe the myth that farmer’s markets are very expensive. To give people a deal that’s 50 cents on the dollar, we’ve got to get that news out to them.”
In addition to Martin’s table, other local farmers and businesses set up shop outside the church.
Christy Thompson, who has been a regular vendor at the market for nine years, said the community environment is what motivates her and her husband to come sell their produce every week.
“It’s not our most profitable market, but it is profitable enough to come,” Thompson said. “There’s this good family type atmosphere, but we love the students too. The students play a big part.”
Even on a hot summer day, many community members and students come out to buy produce and chat with the retailers.
Jill Nowack, who sells her jam at the market, said she loves the atmosphere of the market as well. Nowack began coming to the market while living in nearby Reidsville but still makes the trip from Kernersville, 40 miles away.
“I used to live closer,” Nowack said. “But I still come to this market. I love the variety of people.”
The market — and the lettuce — certainly are popular among residents and students. Each week, groups of students crowd around a teenager’s lemonade stand, while shoppers go from table to table saying hello to the sellers.
“We get to know folks,” Martin said, before being interrupted by a regular coming to buy his weekly bag of lettuce.