As the growing season begins to pick up, the Blythewood Farmers Market reopened to showcase some of the best locally grown and raised products the Midlands has to offer.
“Every town's market is unique and kind of represents the community that, you know, it's grown out of,” Michaela Barno, the market's founder and acting manager, said.
The Blythewood Farmers Market adapts to better showcase what the town has to offer. The 7-year-old market is a link between producers and the community.
“It is an agricultural town, and there's tons of farms just in Blythewood,” Barno said. “The farmers markets are there to help maintain those farms, but also give a great, you know, specialty grocery store to the suburbanites who are moving in.”
The market attracts local farmers who might see the market as a place of varied opportunities.
"Education is threaded through what we do, so that we can give opportunities to other folks to learn how to do things for themselves," Abbie Kowalke, owner and farmer of Crazy Chic Heritage Farm, said. "But also, if they want to go into small-scale farming, that we can show them how well it can be done."
Education does not stop with farming tips. Kowalke said the market members can offer good complements to pair with the other goods consumers are buying. For those who just want recipe suggestions, there is no one better to look to than the person who raised what you're about to eat.
Aside from being a locally sourced market, Blythewood is a communal gathering space that has provided shelter during a stressful time.
“If you've missed it, there's been a pandemic and an election," Barno said. "So, it's been very hectic here, but the farmers market has been, like, a safe place; a haven; a sanctuary."
The market has even inspired community members to embrace the agricultural history of the area.
When the pandemic cost Robin Beam her job as an office manager, she embraced farming. Now she is a farmer full-time and owns the Two Creek Farm with her family. Beam had some experience gardening, but it was something to do in her free time, not a full-time job.
“We've had our challenges, and I'm sure we're gonna have a few more challenges, but it showed me that I'm like, ‘Yeah, I think I'm going to do this,’” Beam said. “I'd rather do what I'm doing on the side for a full-time [job].”
She started off with blackberries, enlisting her children to pick them and bring them to the market. Today, she brings berries and more to the Blythewood Market. To her, the Blythewood Market is the perfect location and a relaxed environment.
The atmosphere is important at any event, and Barno uses music to build a sense of comfort and familiarity, allowing the market showcase both local flavors and sounds, Kowalke said.
“When I started this market, it was so, so small, and so having music made it feel like it was an official thing,” Barno said. “It didn't make it feel empty. So, even if there were only five vendors, it didn't feel quiet and empty, it felt — it felt a little bustling.”
Along with live music, Barno organizes theme nights to highlight vendors and products.
"[Barno] will have the wine tastings, and she pairs that really well with the cigar makers that will roll their own cigars," Kowalke said. "It adds even more to the night, so it can become an 'event' without being an 'event.'"
This year, the Blythewood Farmers Market will welcome over 40 vendors a week. They range from local farmers, such as the Beams, to food vendors and even Soda City mainstay Meet Your Cremator. Even fresh, locally raised meat products are available.
If it can be grown or raised in South Carolina, chances are, you’ll find it at the Blythewood Farmers Market.
“The community comes every Wednesday, and all races, all political leanings, all everybody, all religions, all — everyone is out there,” Barno said. “They're all shopping, and selling and talking to each other. Running a farmers market gives me hope for society. I didn’t set out to say that when I was getting started.”
The Blythewood Market is open Wednesdays during the spring and summer 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Doko Meadows Park in Blythewood, South Carolina.