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Shoppers Enjoy Food, Fun At Tuscumbia’s Spring Park Market

Shoppers Enjoy Food, Fun At Tuscumbia’s Spring Park Market
August 18, 2004 |

Only in Alabama at Tuscumbia’s Spring Park Market can shoppers buy wedding cake soap, stock up on fresh vegetables and gather a bunch of flowers for entertaining–all to the tune of bluegrass bands and sizzling grills. Thursday afternoons belong to the market, north Alabama’s favorite new neighbor, where everything from blue eggs to peaches that are as flat as a flitter can be found. Local growers offer fresh-from-the-field produce and flowers, accented by homemade goat cheese, honey, bread, jams, jellies and just about anything else you can name that can be picked, pickled, spread, stewed or splashed with vinegar and oil. Old timers enjoy the spirit of farmers markets past, while newcomers to the Buy Fresh, Buy Local approach appreciate the festival-type atmosphere, chef’s demonstrations and the recently renovated Spring Park, complete with a spring-fed pond, falls, trolley and train. “There’s something for everyone at this market and everyone benefits, too,” said Sherry Campbell, director of Shoals Culinary Center in Florence. Set in picturesque Spring Park, recently renovated by local industrialist Harvey Robbins, the market’s opening season has been a resounding success according to Campbell.”It’s modeled after Pepper Place in Birmingham with white tents, a community service booth, friendly growers and a great variety of produce and specialty items. I had been there once or twice when I decided we needed something like it in our area,” she said. Market shoppers are transported by trolley to town, just a watermelon seed spittin’ distance away from the park, where Campbell reports local store traffic is up and so are sales. “Harvey bought the train, two trolleys and had the whole park redone. This is perfect for a farmers market,” she added. Campbell says neighbors love to talk when they get together, and the market is an ideal forum. More than 100 shoppers put down their parcels for the chef’s demo only to be served good news alongside good food on a recent July evening. Dales Restaurant co-owner Tommy Campbell’s engagement to Linda Whitaker was announced as he served the local restaurant’s famous grilled beef kabobs, salmon, chicken and vegetables to the delighted audience. Vendors, one and all, sing the praises of the market and its organizers. Laura Hester of Bluffview Farms drives about 40 minutes to market from her farm close to the Tennessee line and appreciates that the market is on a weekday evening rather than Saturday morning. “This way I get to spend more time with my family on the weekends, and we have somewhere exciting to go on Thursday, too.” Not only does Hester bring fresh-baked bread, sourdough, Italian seasoning and brown sugar cinnamon, but also her blue eggs are quite a draw. “The blue eggs come from Araucana chickens,” she explained. The chickens are unusual in that they have beards and no wattles, “but the eggs look like other eggs on the inside and they taste terrific.” Hester’s year-round garden includes bok choy, gourmet lettuce, arugala and tomatoes–pear, red and yellow. The bread goes like hotcakes, she said. The first Thursday market saw her 65 loaves go in 30 minutes. She upped her production and still has people waiting on her when she arrives. She was worried at first that she wouldn’t sell much, she said. Her second Thursday, she sold out of bread in 11 minutes. “We have great customers, and they come back week after week bringing more people,” she said. “What was I worried about?” Vendors pay $300 for a season at the market, an investment well worth the price, says Linda Kelley of Shamrock Farms. Kelley’s flowers are a popular item along with her blueberries and houseplants. Nearby, Blount County is represented by Bonnie Jones of Sugar Creek Orchard in Hayden. Heirloom tomatoes, touted by Jones as the “best tasting” tomatoes ever, are flanked by Jim Jones’ hard candy shaped like the state of Alabama and green veggies, still wet with dew from the picking. Walk a few more feet and investigate the flat peaches of Classical Fruits. “Nobody ever heard of those,” Campbell said, “but we’ve got ’em right here.” Carolyn Merona’s jams and jellies go perfectly with her zucchini bread, and for those who want to make your own, zucchinis are abundant at several booths. And corn? Big, beautiful ears just ripe for the microwave, says Joel Kendrick, market coordinator and director of Tuscumbia Parks and Recreation. His recipe is simple: “Check it for worms, remove a few silks, shuck a few outer leaves and stick it in the microwave for 4-5 minutes. Easy and delicious.”Spring Park Market is held each Thursday evening–May through October–from 4-7 p.m. in Tuscumbia’s Spring Park. Admission is free and so are the friendly train and the trolley rides. Try to talk John McWilliams, local historian and train engineer to give you the history of Tuscumbia, Alabama’s oldest railroad town.

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