A Bike, A Basket, and Tasty Trips to the Market

I have a new Saturday morning obsession! It starts with “Bonnett”, my girlie bicycle. (Yes, I’m one of those people who names things, like my bike.) My sweet baby blue road machine has a brown wicker basket attached to the handlebar, and this is a girl’s best friend for my Saturday morning adventures.

This venue happens to be nestled in my very own neighborhood. The ride begins under the beautiful canopy oaks on South Boundary and crossing the railroad tracks on Williamsburg Street. After two green lights, I’m at my desired destination. In plain view, there is a wide open building topped by a red roof, and on the arched side of the roof, displays a logo with vegetables on it. The building gracefully sits on an historic landmark, near downtown Aiken, and it’s the Aiken County Farmers Market.  

The greeting from everyone at the market is very welcoming. The vibrant mood is brewed from the chattering sounds of the various vendors and customers exchanging conversation, children laughing, and food sizzling from the cooking demonstrations. Not only do the sounds from the market enlighten the atmosphere, but the sights are pleasing to the eyes as well. Besides colorful produce, plants and crafts, the mural on the wall is painted by Aiken’s very own talented artist, Betsy Wilson-Mahoney. It’s a mural of farming in Aiken through the ages representing the market’s rich history dating back to 1951.

Like many foodies and shoppers, the market is home to me; and we go after the same things – fresh locally produced food! More folks are cooking at home using fresh ingredients. Cooking can be fun, delicious, and inexpensive when buying locally and in season. The sizzling sounds and aroma at the market comes from “Chef” Josh Hobbs of SNAP-Ed. He presents cooking demonstrations by using all the seasonal local ingredients from the Farmers Market to show guests how to cook healthy food on a budget. Chef Hobbs gives out samples for your palates to try and sends recipes for you to take home. 

It has been pleasant meeting the vendors and learning about the products they have on their tables. They make and grow the highest quality products all around; you’ll find many fresh, natural, and heathy alternatives to store bought fare. Introduce yourself to the vendors and get to know them. They are very friendly and will answer all of your questions. The two vendors I got to know last week were “Happy Earth Farms” and “Antabellum Chocolate”.

The “Happy Earth Farms” puts a smile on my face. Owned by Steve and Karen Fennell, they grow their crops and chickens the old fashioned way by using their own organic compost in their gardens, and they raise their chickens in plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Their eggs are from organically fed hens as they feed them greenhouse romaine lettuce. In addition to bringing tasteful blueberries, their summer squash and cucumbers are so fresh that they are on the menu of a world class restaurant in Ridge Spring called “Juniper”.

“Antebellum Chocolates” is a sweet vendor. I was impressed to hear the owner’s story. James Stefanakos started making chocolate truffles at home as gifts for family and friends, and in the process he learned that 1 in 4 children in the CSRA lack regular access to nutritious food.  He converted his hobby into a business that feeds a meal to a child though the backpack and summer meal programs at Golden Harvest and “Hungry No More”. Since he started selling in the Aiken County Farmers Market in July 2015, the proceeds from his bars have provided meals for 6,800 children in the CSRA. The bars are all handmade in small batches using locally sourced ingredients. The Pecan Pie bar is the most popular followed by Coastal, Awww Nuts and Stormy Seas. Stormy Seas had my taste buds at hello. It is dark chocolate made with sea salt. I have found a new sweet favorite!

And, summer just got a lot sweeter! Those Saturday adventures with Bonnett to the Farmers Market just stepped up a notch. During Thursday summer nights, the market is located in the Alley in downtown Aiken with live music, SC grown produce, artisan goods and crafts, food vendors, and cooking demonstrations. The goods range from fresh vegetables, fruits, grass-fed meats, goat cheese in olive oil, local honey, bird houses, carved wood, and more. The atmosphere is family oriented and dog friendly. This is another great time to get to know our local vendors and artisans. It’s just like the Farmers Market at the original location, but with a few additions showcasing jewelry, pottery and food booths from downtown restaurants.  Looks like I need to get an additional wicker basket to place on the back of Bonnett. My shopping list just got longer!