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  • Clara Cartrette

Farmers Market manager plans farm-to-table dinner

Susie Rockel and her husband, Vincent, moved from the sand hills of the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the eastern end of Columbus County eight years ago and have become farmers, growing a variety of fruits and vegetables on their small farm.

“I thought it would be nice to have something that wasn’t going to disappear,” said Susie, apparently referring to hurricanes that wreak havoc on the coast. She is manager of the Columbus County Community Farmers Market and is also a vendor there, selling fruits and vegetables that she grows.

Rockel said they discovered the area while their children were attending UNC Wilmington, and they love their farm. “My husband and I wanted to do organic farming and looked around for property,” she said. “It’s part of an old pecan orchard and it’s beautiful. After living on sand dunes for 30 years, it’s nice to have trees. We started growing vegetables and people at the Farmers Market are the most generous, welcoming people I’ve met since I’ve been here.”

A restaurateur for eight years, Rockel likes to cook and is planning a farm-to-table dinner for 64 people on Saturday, Sept. 22 upstairs at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville. “It will be a fundraiser for the Farmers Market and tickets are $40,” she said. “The menu will consist of whatever is in peak season and Columbus County has a great fall season.

“I’ve been dying to do a farm-to-table dinner since we got here,” she continued. “It will be upstairs at the museum and I think 64 is about all we could handle. We will also have a silent auction.”

Rockel says she is a proponent of locally grown food. “If you buy vegetables at the grocery store, the farmer receives 10 to 15 cents per dollar, whereas if you buy at the Farmers Market, the farmer gets 85 to 100 percent per dollar. Some markets have a charge per vendor but we don’t, so the vendors get 100 percent for what they sell. I want to help farmers at the market and at local stands, but I want the food grown by a farmer. It just makes sense to get as much of your food locally as possible. It’s better all around for county residents to get food locally.”

She noted that UNC Wilmington serves 17,000 meals a day and 20 percent of the produce and meat served are grown locally. Farmers are transitioning to growing food for market on their farms, therefore allowing them to have smaller amounts of land, Rockel said.

“Columbus County has a huge variety of produce they can grow,” Rockel said. “Kohlrabi, arugula… I love arugula, and if you order a salad in Europe you’ll get arugula. There’s a whole world of food out there we can grow and enjoy if you’re interested in what you eat.”

Rockel is in her second year as manager of the Columbus County Community Farmers Market. She said there are a few more vendors this year, patrons have increased and most people are used to having fresh vegetables available.

“The Farmers Market is trying to become more relevant,” she said, “and we hope to be a place to bring kids where there is something to do on Saturday mornings. Aug. 18 is Back to School Day and we will give away backpacks through the Soybean Growers Association. They gave us some and we added to theirs.”

Rockel said students must come with an adult to participate in the give-away.

“We have a special day every month. In September we will participate in the Honey Festival and we’ll also have regular hours and set up at the museum,” she said. “We will have special days in October and November, including Sweet Potato Day and Cornbread and Collard Day. The Lake Waccamaw Jammers, musicians who get together to play music on Saturdays at Lake Waccamaw Depot Museum, will perform in October.”

There will also be a Christmas from the Heart Day.

“The county has been good about cutting the grass (at the Farmers Market),” Rockel said. “We want to provide a service and add to the community. We get people who stop by on their way to the beaches in the summer, and in general we are a community non-profit organization for farmers and we hope farmers will take advantage of it. The more vendors we have, the more people will come out.”

Farmers Market vendors also sell their wares at Columbus Regional Healthcare at 500 Jefferson Street from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.

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