In its third full season of operation, the State Farmers Market is starting to settle into its Lexington County location.
The market, which moved from Bluff Road to West Columbia in fall 2010, now boasts more than 350 registered farmers, up from 290 in 2011 and 330 in 2012 according to market manager Brad Boozer. More than 50,000 people attended the market’s four-day flower festival earlier this spring.
Longtime market director David Tompkins said the farmers market draws most of its customers from Lexington County at its location on U.S. 321, near the intersection of Interstates 26 and 77.
Columbia residents, less inclined to drive out of the city to the state market, have increasingly turned to new farmers markets that have sprung up downtown like Soda City along Main Street and the recently opened Food Park in North Columbia. The new location is about a 20-minute drive from Main Street and from the former Bluff Road location.
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Tompkins said more shoppers have been buying in bulk at the State Farmers Market in recent years, a trend he attributes in part to an increased interest in canning and to the growth of family co-ops trying to save money.
The market’s two farmers’ sheds feature 123 stalls and sell only certified South Carolina grown produce. The sheds are open 24/7 throughout the summer but are busiest in the early morning hours.
There are also 20 wholesalers with facilities at the location that are open to the public and sell local and out-of-state produce in bulk. The warehouses hours vary, but most are open from around 4 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Unusually cool weather delayed the start of the season this year, but Boozer said more produce is now starting to come in. Watermelons and peaches are in full season along with tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
Tompkins suggested that shoppers come by early in the morning and then stop in for breakfast at Judy’s at the Market, a restaurant serving Southern dishes often made with produce from the adjacent farmers’ sheds. There’s also a country store and farmers pavilion with local vendors selling everything from jams, jellies and relishes to crafts and cookware.
“Take a little time to learn how to shop the market,” Tompkins said. “We’re here. We’ll help you.”