Following mom’s footsteps at the farmers’ market

By: J.A. Bolton - Storyteller

In the late 1990s, Rockingham Downtown Corporation decided a local farmers’ market was needed in Rockingham. This market would be a central location for local farmers to sell their homegrown produce, honey, berries and other such products. This type of venue was needed to help draw more folks downtown as a lot of the big box stores had left downtown and set-up shop along business Hwy. 74.

The Rockingham Farmer’s Market really grew and got so big that the RDC decided it was too big for them to handle. The local Agriculture Extension Service was asked to take on the project and has been active in the operation of the market ‘til this day.

So happened during this time period, a building to house the Farmer’s Market was built on Biltmore Drive. This proved to be a bad location for the market and feelings were hurt on both the farmers’ side and the local politicians’ side of this new venture.

Some farmers left the market, while others — like my Mom and Dad, James and Ruth Bolton — sat up shop on Saturday morning on the square in Rockingham. It was a slow go at first, but gradually gained the support of more local vendors and customers.

Farming has been in the blood of both my Mom and Dad’s families for years. Most people find when farming gets in your blood, it’s like sand in your shoes — it’s hard to get out.

Mom and Dad were just small garden-type farmers, raising and selling things like squash, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, turnips and, of course, collards. Also, my Mom would sell a lot of her beautiful cut flowers that she raised along the borders of their house.

It was never about the money they made at the market, they just enjoyed doing it. They also made many new friends, from vendors to their many customers who came to the market.

When harvest time came, Mom’s phone stayed busy with people calling, wanting to buy some of their always-fresh produce. But somehow, she always had some left to take to the market on Saturday morning.

My Dad never owned a pick-up or trailer, so he and Mom would load their car trunk and back seat full of veggies to take to the market. Why, on a lot of occasions, Mom would even home deliver their veggies.

In the fall, their collards would get big enough to sell. Early on Saturday morning, Dad would make several trips to the collard patch to cut 10 or 12 collards to take to the market. Mom would give him strict orders not to cut down more than they might sell, for she knew she would have to do them up herself if they didn’t sell. The way Dad solved this problem was, as the morning market progressed and they sold more collards, Dad would run home and cut more collards. Why, I’ve seen him make three or four trips so no collard would go to waste. Both my Mom and Dad were brought up during the Great Depression and nothing ever went to waste.

Why, the day my Dad died, there were 800 collards in their garden just about ready to cut.

After Dad’s death, I helped Mom cut and sell her collards. Why, she even got the title of “Collard Lady” at the Farmer’s Market. Why, I think Mom even had each of her collards named because she took so much pride in her garden. “Anything worth doing is worth doing right” was her motto.

Just after the first frost, or the week before Thanksgiving, folks would be lined up and beeping their horns in Mom’s yard — wanting to buy her collards, plus any other type of greens she had grown. Talking about turnip greens or salad, Mom, doing it her way, would pick each individual leaf while I learned from my Dad just to take a pair of long pruning shears and you could fill up a bag in just a jiffy.

After Dad died, Mom lived alone, and being a people person like she was, she thought going to the Farmers’ Market was one of the highlights of her week; church being the first. Why, it didn’t matter if she sold out or not, this was her time to socialize and if she had a chance to tell folks about her Lord and Savior, she would.

As time went by and Mom moved into her 80s, her health began to decline. She often said that these days she couldn’t turn out the work she had done in her 70s, even though she could still wear out a garden hoe. Seems like on Saturday morning, her strength would pick up and she would head on down to the Farmers’ Market.

When I retired, I started growing produce for the market, basically for Mom to have something to sell. Mom would help me sell my produce and even managed to have a garden herself, including her flowers. Folks would tell me that they had passed my Mom’s house and even though it might be 90 degrees, she would be still be working in her yard or garden, always wearing her broad-brim straw hat. They don’t make them like they used to!

It so happened one Saturday morning, my wife and I had planned to go to the Tobacco Museum in Kenly to tell stories. Mom said she wanted to take our produce to the Farmers’ Market to sell that morning. Even though I didn’t think she was able, who was I to say no to my Mom.

The evening before our trip to Kenly, I told Mom I would come out there early and load up the produce in her car. The next morning, I was knocking on her door around 7, but I couldn’t get her to come to the door, even though her car was under the carport. I even called her phone — but no answer. I felt as if something was bad wrong because Mom was usually up before the sun came up. I went to her window and I could hear her alarm clock going off. Finding her spare key, I opened up the door and went in. Entering her bedroom, my bad thoughts were confirmed. My Mom seemed to have had a stroke during the night. Her speech was slurred and she couldn’t move her left side. I immediately called 911 and waited. Why, I hadn’t even thought to cut the alarm clock off. My Mom, thinking the alarm was her phone, spoke up and said, “J.A., answer that phone, someone probably wants me to bring them something to the market.”

My Mom never physically made it back to the Farmers’ Market. But anytime I would visit her at the nursing home, she would ask about how things were going at the market and mostly about the folks she knew and loved at the Farmers’ Market.

Time marches on and my wife tells me that I’ve got that same Farmers’ Market blood running though my veins as my parents had years before. I say every year, “This is my last year growing for the market,” but somehow the Lord sees me through to another year and maybe, just maybe, I’ll make it as long as my Mom did. Just remember, “Gardening: its cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.”

J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writer’s Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies and author on his new book “Just Passing Time.”

J.A. Bolton