Across U.S. Highway 231 from Catoma Creek lies a sweet new farmers market and café filling a needed niche for fresh produce in south Montgomery County.
SweetCreek Farm Market opened in late March, but from the look of visitors flowing into the barn-style market, it’s already a Pike Road institution.
“People have been so supportive,” said Reed Ingram, who owns the fledgling market with his wife, Karen. “It’s our goal to provide them with good food and a good experience.”
In a part of the county lacking fresh produce and restaurants, the Ingrams said they’re more than happy to provide healthy, top-notch, hand-selected produce.
“People today are more concerned about what they eat,” said Reed. “This generation is more health-oriented.”
SweetCreek, named for the Catoma Creek and the market’s fresh-baked sweets, sells produce from across Alabama, running the gamut from well-known goods like Chilton County peaches and Slocomb tomatoes, to lettuce, onions, peas and watermelons.
“We want to help farmers sell what they grow,” said Reed. “It’s important we take care of our farmers, and it’s important to provide consumers with an opportunity to buy local food whenever possible.”
The market also sells bottled and canned goods, like apple jelly, chipotle peach salsa, hot chow chow and a plethora of pickled products. The food is artfully arranged among vintage decor, including old-timey cash registers, scales and baskets, resembling a bygone era for shoppers.
“Everything here except the bananas and oranges is Alabama-grown,” said Reed. And if he could source those from the Heart of Dixie, he would.
For the Ingrams, educating consumers about where, how and when their food is grown is key.
“Some people think all foods are available all year long,” said Karen, who regularly chats with customers about locally-sourced, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
SweetCreek was Reed’s dream for two years before Karen hopped on board. Two years ago, concrete plans were made, and today, the 39-employee market is rocking.
“You can either ride the wave or fight it,” Karen said with a laugh. “I loved it once I decided it was a done deal.”
The café’s menu touts items like a family recipe camp stew, authentic Cuban sandwich, turkey club with cranberry sauce, Alabama-raised catfish tacos and dairy-free homemade ice cream.
“We hand-make everything we sell in the cafe,” said Reed. “And we try to take it to another level.”
And then there’s the menu superstar – house-smoked pulled pork on a potato bun with Wickles pickles and jalapeño slaw.
SweetCreek smokes about 2,000 pounds of meat a week for sandwiches and individual Boston butt sales, a number Reed expects will increase during football season.
The Ingrams regularly spend 14 hours a day at SweetCreek, arriving with the kitchen staff at 5 a.m. to bake, cook and prepare for the day. They are there throughout the day for market hours, which are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday but Sunday, when the market closes at 6 p.m.
But SweetCreek isn’t the only thing keeping the couple busy. Reed serves Alabama’s 75th District in the House of Representatives, and the family owns Reed Ingram Motors in Montgomery, operated by their son, Garrett. Their other son, Chase, works for Merck Pharmaceuticals.
Reed has raised beef cattle all his life, enhancing his role on the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee.
“With this market, plus my experience in the cattle business, serving on the ag committee is a good fit,” said Reed. “It goes hand-in-glove.”
In the few months SweetCreek has been open, visitors have stopped by from across the U.S. on their way south – and even a couple snowbirds headed back to Canada.
“I’ve met people from all but about seven states,” Reed said.
Hattie Smith grew up in Selma, but moved to Oregon 20 years ago. While visiting family in Montgomery, Smith decided to take a trip down memory lane at SweetCreek.
“We came here to get a watermelon because my daddy used to grow them,” said Smith, who frequents farmers markets in Oregon.
Vestavia Hills couple Joe and Teresa Granger watched SweetCreek’s construction unfold while routinely traveling to Hartford, and when the market opened for business, they had to give it a go.
“We’re south Alabama born and bred, so we love fresh vegetables,” said Teresa. “This is the kind of food we grew up on.”
Although the Ingrams don’t currently grow any produce they sell, they’re planting a pumpkin patch this fall and have plans for vegetable gardens next year.
“Our brains are clicking on the next thing we want to do,” said Karen. “I don’t see an end in sight.”
Find SweetCreek Farm Market on Facebook or email the Ingrams at firstname.lastname@example.org.