By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
I stroll into the market and my senses are overwhelmed in the best way possible – the newly harvested vegetables bursting with color, the three-man band playing joyful folk music, and the aroma of freshly baked breads and pastries combined with the delightful fragrance looming from the flower stand. I’m greeted with a warm smile from two farmers who have been awake at least four hours longer than me.
According to the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, there are nearly 9,000 farmers’ markets in the country.
Farmers Markets foster a connection between urban and farm life. It is a way for the general public to buy fresh products straight from the farm and get to know the people who grow their food.
Gary and Susan Shaw own Hickory Hill Farm, a small family farm in Athens, GA. They wake up at 3:30 am every Saturday morning to make the two-hour trip to Atlanta, while their daughter and son-in-law man a booth at a farmers market in Athens to sell their organic vegetables, fruits and eggs. Come fall 2017, the Shaws will add peanuts to their list.
Shaw said his reasoning is simple: “We like peanuts – the taste. There’s a lot you can do with them.”
He also said he noticed a peanut farmer’s popularity at another market, which is why he is optimistic about consumers’ response to their peanuts. “Customers are all over them.”
But as organic farmers, the Shaws said it is no easy feat to successfully harvest organic peanuts, which is a necessity for their target customer who prefers organics.
“They’re hard to grow organic, which is why a lot of people don’t grow organic peanuts,” Shaw said. “We had to order seed stock in Virginia and start our own seed stock.”
And the Shaws have an advantage because in south or Central Georgia (where their farm is located), they have a sandy soil, as opposed to red clay, which promotes the growth of organic peanuts, they said.
“My ‘business plan’ when I began making cold-pressed oils was to see how well my oils sold at local farmer's markets,” Oliver said. “The know your farmer, know your food movement was beginning to catch on in South Georgia and that is where I got my start. Getting direct feedback from consumers was vital to me as a start up doing something no one else was doing.”
And Cheryl who works for Oliver Farms at markets, echoes Shaw’s reasoning for peanut love: Taste. She enjoys introducing customers to green peanut oil with a piece of fresh bread and sharing creative ways to use the oil.
“Flavor is the main driver,” she said.
Also in Georgia farmers’ markets is Rusty’s Nutz, owned by Russ David. Rusty’s Nutz specializes in boiled peanuts. And while David is not a farmer himself, he said he is always learning from farmers around him about what’s in season.
“Community markets encourage us to use each other’s ingredients,” David said. “I like making relationships at farmers markets with other vendors, with staff and with the community.”
And like the others, David said taste matters most, which is why his boiled peanuts are never frozen, since it can change their flavor and texture. He fuses tradition with creativity, as it’s important to put spins on the familiar boiled peanut to fulfill consumers’ desire for different flavors, he said.
For example, David bought garlic from local farmers and combined it with banner butter to create a garlic butter for his peanuts. He uses local honey to sweeten his peanuts and local peppers to spice them up. And he even created peanut butter and jelly boiled peanuts, using a jelly from a market vendor as a peanut glaze.
Across the country, Bliss specialty peanut butter is sold in 22 farmers markets every week.
“People are crazy about nut butters, especially at the farmers’ market,” said Bliss. “A lot of people trend towards farmers’ markets and they find boutique-y, cool things that aren’t in grocery stores.”
While some of her consumers initially question the healthfulness of peanut butter, Bliss said she enjoys educating them on the powerful nutritional package they provide, including good fats and protein.
But like the folks behind Hickory Hill Farm, Oliver Farms and Rusty’s Nutz, Bliss said flavor is certainly the main driver of their peanut butter sales, with Cinnamon Chia Seed as their top-seller.
“We put the spoons out there and that’s pretty much it,” she said.
Aside from taste, another common thread our peanut-producing farmers and vendors share, is a lack of age discrimination.
While the Shaws’ biggest customers are gen Xers, Shaw said he expects all generations of customers to be excited about their organic peanuts.
For Bliss, she said they do big business with millennials at farmers’ markets, but sell to families and older generations, too.
And David said whether it’s a parent reminiscing to their child about their memories of boiled peanuts or an older person finding comfort in the old-school southern snack, they provide everyone comfort.
If you haven’t already, check out your local farmers’ market one Saturday morning. Chances are, you’ll be greeted with a beautiful, site, delicious food and genuine smiles.
 Farmers Markets and Direct-to-Consumer Marketing. USDA website. https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/local-regional/farmers-markets-and-direct-consumer-marketing. Updated 2016. Accessed June 8, 2017.