Columbia Farmers' Market opens for 29th season

Saturday, March 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:48 p.m. CDT, Sunday, March 22, 2009

COLUMBIA — Vendors and customers flocked to the Columbia Farmers' Market for its annual spring opening Saturday morning. It was one of the largest openings the market has seen in its 29 years.

About 30 vendors gathered to sell their products, including spinach, mushrooms, meats, honey, baked goods and chocolate. About 1,200 people showed up to shop for the fresh produce, meat and special treats.

First-time vendor Alan McClure, owner of Patric Chocolate, explained the origins of his artisan chocolate to customers. McClure will be selling at the market for the rest of the season. He said he enjoyed the direct one-on-one relationship with customers provided by the market because this is the closest he gets to having a retail store.

Carole Riesenberg, who has been going to the market for 10 years, said she originally started going for, "the wonderful produce and the opportunity to buy grass-fed beef, pork and free-range chicken and trout."

"I want to support the wonderful farmers who work so hard to provide for the rest of us," Riesenberg said. She left the market with an armful of goods including spinach, rhubarb pie, blackberry jam, pussy willows and flank steak.

Heather Willman of Sunrise Shiitake Farm has committed to being at the market every week this year. Last year, she sold her mushrooms at the market only every so often because most of her produce went to local restaurants such as Sycamore, Berlin Cafe, and Wine Cellar and Bistro. This year, both she and her husband have decided to work full time on their mushrooms. The couple used to have a greenhouse but now grow mushrooms in their basement.

"It's been non-stop people all through this morning," said Willman, who usually sells out of mushrooms by 10:30 or 11 a.m.
Eager customers anxious for a taste of spring bought up Phil's Garden spinach quickly. The spinach was planted last fall and put under a heated row cover in February. Phillip Stewart, owner of Phil's Garden, said he sells about 30 recognized items throughout the season and "if it can be grown, I've got most of it." Stewart has been a vendor at the market for 12 years and said the market serves as an outlet for his goods.