There is perhaps no better hub for local food aficionados than a farmers’ market. Here gather the producers, the consumers, and the artists who forge links among them. Such a simple and clear concept—yet one that requires a lot more management than most folks suspect.
Enter Abby Wyatt, Market Manager for the Davidson Farmers’ Market. For the past year and a half, she has coordinated the chaos: deploying vendors, volunteers, and chefs in a continuing initiative to get local ingredients into residents’ kitchens.
“It’s technically a part-time gig,” says the energetic 35-year old, “But ultimately it ends up being a little bit more.” That’s because there’s more to the story than just lining up tables and tents.
Originally from Washburn, VA, Wyatt and her husband Zack found their way to the clean-food club through their infant daughter’s battle with eczema eight years ago. “When they thought it was allergies, we then had to go gluten free, dairy free, soy free, everything, for six months. That was when we really started focusing more on, ‘Oh, what you put in your [mouth] does affect the rest of your body!’”
Reading labels led to seeking clean food, led to purchasing local food, and by the time they found themselves installed in Cornelius a couple years later after a job transfer, those habits were ingrained.
Wyatt’s involvement in the market grew naturally from her regular presence there as a customer.
“I just got lucky by meeting people. It just happened that when they started looking for a new manager I was like, ‘That’s something I would really like to do!’”
That was December 2015, and since then she’s become an unfailing force at the market. Most vendors and customers see her on Saturday mornings, hauling tables, answering questions, wrangling volunteers. Her market days start early, but are also a favorite time of the week. “5:30, 6:00 on Saturday morning is my happy place,” she says. “I just put my headphones in and do my thing. It’s my moment of peace without kids or husband or anybody else around.”
Soon enough, volunteers, customers and vendors join her in the market lots stretching alongside and behind Summit Coffee.
Around 40 to 45 sellers pull in by 7:30am, followed by hundreds of shoppers.
At the height of the summer season, over a thousand customers may come through the market on a single Saturday, finding more than just tables of produce, meats or baked goods.
That’s because Wyatt has been busy behind the scenes all week long. “I plan events, chef demonstrations or activities that we have—just coordinating what’s happening, checking in with everyone, doing the newsletter.” Each week she gathers details from vendors of new items coming in from fields and kitchens, so she can broadcast it to shoppers planning their purchases. All in all, she may spend 30 hours making sure Saturday comes off without a hitch.
Wyatt also visits vendors on a regular rotating schedule, to ensure that what is brought to market is truly local and clean. This is another favorite part of her job. “I just love seeing what they do and how they do it, and walking around the farm.”
The vendors themselves have noticed Wyatt’s active involvement. “She is always asking for feedback,” says PCG member Dani Rowland of Rowland’s Row Farm. “What we want to see, what we need, and what could be done to make the market better.”
Reaching out to the community is key in Wyatt’s approach, and PCG membership falls neatly into her wheelhouse. “I rely mainly on the PCG Members Facebook group,” she says, since she can’t often attend the member meet-ups.
Aside from keeping up with other members, Wyatt has found the group helpful in mustering vendors, volunteers, and chefs for demonstrations. “I think it’s a great connector for everyone.”
The PCG Members Facebook Group helped Abby connect with PCG member Lee Menius, owner of nearby Carolina Craft Butchery, who will be showing customers how to break down a whole chicken on July 29.
With access to the PCG’s diverse talent pool, Wyatt hopes to pull in a wider variety of food entrepreneurs, for market demonstrations sharing their different skills and products. “We’re a little outside the Charlotte-focused area, so I would like to see people come up and showcase what’s going on in Charlotte,” she says, envisioning wine tastings and “different kinds of events that focus on what is in season.”
She’s also determined to spread the market’s bounty into part of the community that doesn’t often have access to such fresh, high-quality food. She began last year by raising funds for a matching program for SNAP recipients, which this season provides up to an additional $20 each week for qualifying shoppers.
But Wyatt recognizes a need to make the market a more accessible option for low-income families. “Transportation, time—there are all of these hurdles that lower-income people face to get their food.” So she’s partnered with the nearby Ada Jenkins Center, bringing market surplus for their food pantry, and organizing a cooking demonstration at the center, complete with recipes and cost breakdowns. “For me, that’s my biggest goal, is to get that program to be utilized more. It helps them, it helps the vendors, it’s just good all around.”
With Wyatt’s guidance, Davidson Farmers Market is going above and beyond to serve the community. In anticipation of its tenth anniversary in 2018, Wyatt has plans to make the market even more welcoming and vibrant, with special events and fundraisers.
But don’t think she’s dreading the extra hours.
“I feel very lucky to be able to do it. It’s a fun job, and I get to work with amazing people.”
No doubt, others might say the same of her.
Profile written by Alison Leininger