A colder spring in Ardmore resulted in a later-than-usual opening for the Market Place On Broadway. But, like similar facilities throughout the state, business is picking up as people look to locals for fresh produce.
The public location for farmers to market their goods has been in operation for five years and has offered a number of opportunities, several of which have not yet been realized.
"It is open from April to November, but it was built to be open year round," says Melvett Chambers, owner of Melvett's Farm Fresh Vegetables. "We would like to do that and expect to carry holiday-related items. But we can't find the vendors right now."
As the market operates, it brings to mind days past when people would travel downtown on Saturdays to shop and visit. It has been set up as a family-gathering place where people can drink coffee and hang out from 7:30 a.m. to noon or whenever the produce is sold out on Wednesday and Saturday. More often than not, produce has disappeared from the tables before noon on Saturdays.
"Usually, it is a good idea for people to get here early for the best selection," Chambers recommends.
In addition to a gathering place for the community, those selling produce have developed relationships over the years. Friendly banter is a common experience as the day passes.
The market is home to vendors who grow in gardens or on a larger amount of acreage. For some, growing has been a tradition throughout the years, and for others it is an opportunity to return to dormant hobbies.
Larry Winchester, a resident of Love County, has a 140-acre farm on which he has cows and pecan trees and grows watermelon and cantaloupe. He also has a one-acre garden, which keeps him busy.
"I've been farming and gardening since I was a pup," Winchester says. "I have been coming out here for four years as well.
"I was raised on a farm and I just like growing things. It's a lot of time and effort and I give away a lot of stuff to family and neighbors. I make enough money here to pay for expenses."
Winchester said the market has the effect of turning people into repeat customers, as they prefer fresh produce, which isn't always available at other venues.
"Most of the people that shop here wait all winter long to taste what a fresh tomato is supposed to taste like," Chambers says. "There is a big difference between freshly picked vegetables and what has been trucked in. By the time you get it to your plate, it could be three weeks old compared to just hours."
Chambers said the market provides vendors a venue to make extra income to subsidize either their income and maintain their hobbies.
Ronald Brown recently moved back to the Ardmore area after living in California, and started growing vegetables and bamboo. He plants his garden on three-fourths of an acre, producing items for resale. There are also plans to do some canning this year as well.
"I decided to start growing some vegetables, and this is the closest place to resell," Brown says. "I have been growing something since I was a little kid, and have been growing for resale for a couple of years."
Brown is helped by his daughter, Taryn Brown, who also sells sunflowers at the market.
"It's really cool," she says. "When you put something in the ground, it's just dirt and it grows into something beautiful."
Vendors are required to fill out an application prior to opening a stand. On the application, they indicate which produce they will sell throughout the season. All products must be Oklahoma grown, and 30 percent of the items can come through the sale of craft or non-agricultural items. In an effort to ensure variety, a certain percentage of produce can be bought from other Oklahoma certified producers.
And, if there is a question on whether the produce sold is genuine to the vendor, an inspection can be made of that person's property.
Before the current market opened, Chambers said it was held in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Depot.
"Some of the city fathers, Ardmore Main Street and others wanted a permanent facility for the market," Chambers says.
Donations and grants were used to build the $400,000 facility, which can house vendors indoors and out. There is also a small area for cooking demonstrations. To enhance the services provided to the community, there are discussions about moving the Wednesday hours to the evening to allow customers who work an opportunity to shop the market.
"I have really met a lot of good people, and it's something I look forward to," Chambers says.