Jacky Creech started selling local produce out of a truck on weekends in the 1960s and ’70s in Cayce, spreading tables around to offer buyers a better look at the fruits and vegetables.
He would set up along the edge of Charleston Highway, S.C. 321 and U.S. 176). The location was perfect – before Interstate 26 was completed in 1969, U.S. 176 was a main road from Columbia to Charleston. Families heading to nearby Silver Lake, a popular swimming hole/family gathering spot at that time, frequented the stand.
Eventually, business got so good that Creech bought the land and built a small stand, a permanent home.
The move paid off.
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Today, nearly 40 years later, the Cayce Farmers Market is going strong, benefitting in part from the trend of shoppers wanting to support local growers. Katie Welborn of the Midlands Food Alliance called farmers markets, in general, “the new town squares,” adding, People are “connecting the dots to the source” of the food that’s on their tables.
The Creech family has always worked in the store. Jacky and wife Debbie have now retired and their son Justin is the manager. Carrie Lester, a cousin, runs the register during the morning shift.
As business grew, Creech started adding on to the original small stand, eventually closing in the space. But in 1995, an electrical fire took part of the building. The family rebuilt into what is today’s Cayce Farmers Market.
Then, about four years ago, a car plowed through the front of the market.
“Only the produce tables stopped it from becoming a drive-thru,” said Lester. No one was hurt in the accident and customers in the store “offered to help clean up and we kept on going, didn’t close,” she added.
Today’s market building stretches about 150 feet along the highway. To the right, the garden center has some late-summer baskets and plants but will soon be filled with fall mums and pumpkins. The left side of the building is used for storage, leaving the center of the building for the market itself.
Inside the bright, white store, there are tables of local produce and the occasional home baked cakes from the mother of longtime employee Arthur Youmans. Refrigerated cases hold shelled peas and beans, sausages and cheese. There’s a “dollar table” in the corner with still-good produce for sale at deep discount.
The Creeches try to source their produce as locally as possible with fresh vegetables and fruit from farms in Blackville, Gilbert, Saluda and Cayce. But you will still see some fresh citrus from Florida and pineapple on the shelves, “because customers want the convenience of a one-stop location,” Lester said.
There are local non-produce items available, too, among them Busy Bee Honey from Lexington; Bear Branch BBQ Sauce from Springdale; Faithful Foods (Bringing You Baskets) mixes from Lexington, and Keisler Mill Grits from Gilbert. The Creeches also have a line of Cayce Farmers Market sauces, jams, juices and pickled items made for them that have proven popular with customers.
Far and away, the most popular item at Cayce Farmers Market are the boiled peanuts, boiled fresh every day.
According to Lester, Youmans (who has worked at the market for 35 years) and Jeff Glover (15 years) have perfected their recipe for boiled peanuts so that the salt-to-water ratio is just right and the peanuts are just soft without being mushy.
“We buy about 40 pounds of boiled peanuts to go to the beach,” said Walter Walker, a longtime customer who was shopping the market with friends on a recent morning. “We pick them up on Friday for our family gathering (about 10-14 people), and there’s none left by Thursday.”
In addition to produce, the Creeches sell potted and hanging plants and garden vegetables in the spring. At the holidays, North Carolina Christmas trees arrive on Thanksgiving Day, and the fresh cut trees, garland and wreaths are stacked in the market’s garden area and at two other locations, one on Devine Street and the other along U.S. 1.
The garden area is where you will find Sweet Pete, a 6-year-old rooster that took up residence one morning and never left. Sweet Pete is a favorite of schoolchildren, who come through on tours. Customers like to lob grapes for Pete to eat.
Lester estimates there are about 100-150 regulars who stop in every week. Usually the regular group tends to be older, but recently Lester has seen college students coming in, discovering the market for the first time, and some of the students are beginning to become repeat customers. One or two of the market’s regulars often will come in and buy a basket of fruit or bags of candy in addition to their normal purchases and randomly distribute the pieces to others in the community.
Ann Holsonback has been coming to Cayce Farmers Market for 32 years. “Usually twice a month,” she said. “Until mustard and collard greens come in, that is. Then it’s once a week.”
Lester often answers questions from folks who seem unfamiliar with Southern produce in its natural state.
One young girl had never seen uncooked okra and was surprised at seeing fresh green pods in a half-bushel basket. Muscadines and scuppernongs also cause some to pause and ask how should the grapes eaten (“seeds and all?”), mainly because of their thicker skins.
Some are even surprised to find that the market does not carry some types of produce.
“It’s all about what you were used to getting when you were growing up, I suppose,” said Lester. “Folks past North Carolina don’t know about boiled peanuts.” A couple heading to the beach from Ohio wondered why the market didn’t carry buckeyes, and, in the case of a woman that had spent some time in Alaska, asked why the price of rhubarb was so high.
“What grows like a weed and you can get for free in some areas of the country is very seasonal here,” Lester said. “It may not even be available.”
Whatever is in season, customers at Cayce Farmers Market will come to shop.
“We’re a part of the community,” Lester said.
Cayce Farmers Market
2329 Charleston Highway, (803) 791-1009
Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Closed in winter, January until Easter
Cash, check, Visa, Mastercard and EBT