Chef Bill Schleusner’s mind races and his mouth waters as he walks through the new farmers market brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables in downtown Enterprise.
His creative juices flow as he plans menu items to be featured at the historic Rawls Restaurant, a stone’s throw from the boll weevil monument. Schleusner said there’s nothing better than fresh fruits and vegetables, and the idea of serving those to customers excites him.
“Today, I bought squash, blueberries, cucumbers, a seedless watermelon, onions and arugula,” said Schleusner, a Birmingham native and professional chef of 12 years. “I’m not sure what all I will make with it, but I know it will be good because it’s fresh, and that makes everything better.”
Schleusner, 39, joined other residents in and around Coffee County’s largest city in encouraging local officials to construct the permanent market that opened earlier this year. Response from local farmers and shoppers has been exciting, said Birgit Briggs, who manages the market.
“The consumers’ interest in a healthier lifestyle has significantly grown in the past few years, and we are happy to offer our community an avenue to encourage that,” said Briggs, Enterprise’s community service coordinator. “Another purpose of the farmers market is to educate our children about agriculture in our area. Showing them how food goes from farm to table is an important step in creating healthier eating habits.”
Schleusner agreed. He said many consumers have lost sight of where food comes from.
‘It’s almost gotten to be too easy to go to the grocery store and get whatever we want,” Schleusner said. “A farmers market is a great way to connect with the community, and it’s important consumers realize —whether they buy food from a market or a grocery store — that a farmer had to plant a seed, nurture that crop and harvest it.”
Steve Merritt of Slocomb is one of those farmers. He’s a fourth-generation truck farmer who grew up in Florida. Now a pastor at Landmark Baptist Church in Dothan, he still plants a variety of fruits and vegetables to sell at area markets. Both Briggs and Schleusner said the variety and quality of Merritt’s produce always draws a crowd at the market.
The Enterprise market began several years ago, but the new paved parking lot, shaded stands and brick building right on Main Street provide a welcome boost for farmers and consumers.
“I love seeing customers who’ve been doing business with me for years,” said Merritt, 50. “A lot of the older generation likes to smell, taste and feel produce before they buy it, and that’s fine with me. I like getting to know my customers. I also like seeing younger shoppers who are learning about how good and easy to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables can be.”
There’s nothing fresher or better than buying fruits and vegetables straight from the farmers who grew them, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Mac Higginbotham.
“Farmers are excited to bring their bounty right to the person who will buy and prepare it for their family,” said Higginbotham, who is the Federation’s Horticulture Division director. “Consumers discover fresh food really does make a difference in the quality and taste of what they’re eating.”
Billy and Martha Peters of Slocomb have grown produce for nearly 40 years. Their smiles welcome old and new customers alike who visit their stand at the Enterprise Market in late May.
“We love the new market,” Martha Peters said. “It’s been great for us, and the season is just really getting started. We’re looking forward to another great year.”
Market season in Alabama typically begins in the southern part of the state in early May and moves north with the onset of summer. Local farmers markets and roadside stands help boost local economies, Higginbotham said.
“Going to the farmers market has become a fun outing for many families,” he said. “Some offer live music, cooking demonstrations and even children’s activities. This boosts tourism income, and shoppers also spend money locally buying ingredients and supplies to prepare fresh produce.”
In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, many markets offer herbs, honey, fresh eggs, jams, jellies, relishes, sauces, syrup, flowers, plants, shrubs, decorative items, handmade crafts, cornmeal, grits and baked goods.
For more information about the Enterprise Farmers Market, contact Briggs at (334) 348-2668 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For a list of farmers markets and roadside stands in Alabama, visit the Alabama Farmers Market Authority website at fma.alabama.gov.