This Saturday, April 1st, the Durham Farmers’ Market begins its 10th season in Durham Central Park! If you’ve ever wondered how the Durham Farmers’ Market found its home in the Park, here’s a brief history of how it all came together…
The Early Years of the Market
The Durham Farmers’ Market (DFM) started in 1999, with a handful of farmers setting up in the gravel parking lot of the Old Durham Ballpark. The farmers and vendors, all of whom were (and still are) located within 70 miles of Durham, gathered every Saturday during the main growing season – April to November. In their first few years, they had to move around whenever there was a Saturday event at the Ballpark. But, even so, they quickly became a Saturday morning institution.
This location obviously wasn’t ideal. As they grew and became more established, they moved up the street to Measurement Incorporated’s parking lot on Morris Street (where their old sign still resides). Around the same time that they moved to their new parking lot, DFM started discussions with Durham Central Park about the possibility of building a permanent structure in the Park for the Market to call home.
In classic DCP form, public input meetings and charrettes were held to gather feedback, insights and ideas from the community about building a home for the Market. Interest and support quickly coalesced around this idea. With the city and the community on board, the designs were made and the task of fundraising began. The City of Durham helped to secure almost $100,000 from a HUD Economic Development Grant and $49,000 from the Durham Open Spaces and Trails Commission. The rest of the money came directly from community members, local business sponsors, fundraising campaigns through the DCP and SEEDS Boards, and an incredible amount of guidance and support from Self-Help Credit Union. In 2006, the structure started going up!
The Market Moves to the Park
Then, on a very cold Saturday morning in April 2007, the Durham Farmers’ Market moved to their new home in Durham Central Park. Farmers drove in from the country with snow on their trucks. But, despite the unexpected cold snap, the mood was festive. There was a dedication ceremony with the city and county councils and everyone was excited for a new era of fresh, local food and community vitality in the Park!
The move into the the park was a big turning point for DFM. In 2007, the word of the year was “locavore” and the interest in eating local food grew around both the region and country. Having an established home, and no longer having the air of transience, became the key to the market’s success. Since they moved into the park, it has grown significantly. They have added more than 25 new vendors, expanded to a year round market, added Wednesday hours in 2008, and have made food access a priority through their SNAP and Double Bucks Programs. Every year, restaurants focusing on local and seasonal menus have popped up through Durham and chefs shopping at the Market are now a mainstay, with full bags and tubs of fresh, local food for their menus.
Progress in the Park
The market’s move to the park wasn’t just a turning point for the farmers, but also the Park. Durham Central Park was still in it’s early stages in 2007. The gardens were just being established and having DFM move in as the anchor tenant, gave the community a good reason to visit the Park every week and grow to love it. The turtle and cardinal moved in shortly after the farmers, the skatepark was built in 2010, our Food Truck Rodeos became an institution, Mt. Merrill opened in 2014, and downtown Durham has, for lack of a better word, boomed.
Since 2007, people have found hundreds of creative ways to use the space for weddings, fundraisers, dinners, concerts, exercise classes, rallies, and parties of all sorts. It has become the community gathering space that downtown had needed. We, on the staff and the board of Durham Central Park, are constantly humbled by the way that the community has built the Park into what it has become today. The Park’s success really has been a direct result of the fact that the Durham Farmers’ Market has found its home in Durham Central Park. Here’s to many more years of working together!
What to Look Forward to This Season
The Durham Farmers’ Market has a lot planned for this season. Here’s a brief snap shot of what to expect in the next couple of months:
- Wednesday, April 5 – Kick off of the Wednesday Market! Buy one, get one on bee tote bags and we will have fabric painting supplies available for decorating the bags.
- Wednesday, April 19 & Saturday, April 22 – Earth Day celebration
- Saturday, May 6 – Durham County Bee Keeper’s Association
- Saturday, May 20 – Field day
- Saturday, June 24 – Homefries Kid’s Cooking Class
- Saturday, July 15 & Wednesday, July 19 – Tomato Day
- Saturday, July 22 – Home Pickling Competition
- Saturday, July 29 – Homefries Kid’s Cooking Class
- Saturday, August 19 – Homefries Kid’s Cooking Class