BANNER ELK — The Avery County Farmers Market has been going strong this summer as vendors and organizers have noticed record traffic this year as more shoppers have showed a renewed interest in locally sourced food and community markets over crowded grocery stores.

Avery County Agricultural Extension Agent Bill Hoffman has noticed the increase in business as the event has rolled on through summer. The market is held outside of the Historic Banner Elk School every Thursday from 4 to 6:30 p.m. The market lasts from April until the second week of October and typically hosts about 10 to 12 vendors per week.

“It’s as fresh as it gets,” Hoffman said.

Niki and James Hastings of Narrow Way Farms have been frequenting farmers markets for the past two years where they have found recent success. Niki creates polymer clay earrings and bowls in addition to the microgreens, salad mixes and pesto that James grows indoors.

“Right when we opened up it was crazy busy,” James said. “We find that there a lot more people out here shopping locally on purpose not because they can’t go to the grocery store or anything like that. It’s because they’re choosing to support local people.”

The couple had been selling microgreens to restaurants as a major part of their business, but as restaurants closed or business slowed during the pandemic, they have been pleasantly surprised at the success they have found at farmers markets.

“For something like (crafts), it usually isn’t as good at normal farmers markets. You don’t need earrings every week, but we’re getting a lot of business from the tourists, which is good,” Niki said.

Cheryl Hughes of Oleo Acres was on site selling honey fresh from her beehives. Hughes’s bees produce honey out of 17 hives, which produces a wealth of variety, including locust honey and wildflower honey.

“Honey is liquid gold,” Hughes said. “I’ve been doing it for almost eight years, and I’ve only had locust honey twice out of those eight years. It’s very rare to get that. (My husband) is the one that does the beekeeping, and I help him out when I can. We just enjoy watching the bees work.”

Bob, Nancy and Jessica Johnson of Tucker Hollow Farms were one of several produce sellers at the market. The Johnsons sell a healthy mix of produce, including broccoli, peas, peppers, chilis, cucumbers, kale, mushrooms and other fruit and vegetables that are more seasonal.

“I’m retired law enforcement from the Avery County Sheriff’s Office, and I went into full-time farming when I retired. We grow a little bit of everything in the produce line. We sell what we grow. If you sit and eat at our table it comes from our farm,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been farming part-time since 1977 and full-time since 2015. The family also sells organic soap and even handmade miniature picnic tables that are perfect for feeding squirrels and deer, among other purposes.

“I’ve been around this all summer and it hasn’t said a hateful word to me,” Johnson joked.

The next Avery County Farmers Market is set for 4 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6.

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