By Greg Glassner
Let’s face it—people living 50 or 75 years ago ate better food than we do today.
They bought bread and pastries from a local bakery, got meat cut to order from a local butcher, and ate vegetables they raised themselves or bought from a local farmer.
All things being equal, who wouldn’t want to eat fresh produce and eggs, homebaked breads and muffins, and honey, herbal tea, and grass-fed meat produced on local farms?
In our fast-food restaurant and superstore society, however, it is difficult to find this.
Which is what inspired Tammy Anderson and Amy Oelberg to create the Rt. 639 Farmers Market at the old Ladysmith Elementary School, which is now open every Thursday through September from 4-8 p.m.
Oelberg hails from Texas, where her father was a farmer and later a farm activist. She believes in supporting local farmers.
“We volunteered for Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid (project) for 15 years, where the focus is on saving small family farms and eating locally grown food. That’s my foundation. If you have a strong local community, everybody benefits,” she said.
“A lot of kids today don’t know where milk and other foods come from, and we have a childhood obesity problem in this country,” Oelberg added.
“We used to help out with other farmers markets, but we wanted one that was central, not located in a specific neighborhood,” Anderson said, adding that the old school is just west of the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 639 (Ladysmith Road), one of the busiest intersections in the county on a weekday afternoon.
“We have 15 vendors signed up and are looking for more. They have everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables, plants, baked goods, farm-raised meats, and arts and crafts,” Anderson added.
Local food trucks will be at the market so shoppers can also grab a bite to eat or take home a ready-to-serve supper.
“The County was willing to work with us, the Chamber of Commerce is on board, and Miss Alyson’s Daycare (at the old elementary school) is doing a farm-to-plate project with the daycare kids,” Anderson said.
“We started planning full-force in January and February, when neither of us are working at other farmers markets.
Thursday afternoon and early evening was selected as the optimum time because it allows shoppers to stock up for the weekend and will not compete with the many Saturday morning farmers markets in the Greater Caroline County area. Vendors can pick or bake in the morning and bring it fresh to the market.
Among the food and plant vendors are Brian and Kim Criley’s Slow Grown in Virginia farm from Woodford, Bruce Johnson’s Dragonfly Farms from Beaverdam, Renee Lickey’s Nearwater Gardens and Botanicals (and baked goods) from Chilesburg, and Javier Godine and Alicia Becerra’s J & A Produce from Miller Tavern, Virginia.
Crafters include Sharon Hall’s Alpacas of Lakeland Woods, which offers soft and luxurious Alpaca wool socks and towels.
Among Johnson’s customers were Caroline County Chamber of Commerce officers Mary Pitts (president) and Joy Crombie (treasurer).
“This is a great thing for our county,” said Pitts. “It is what our county is all about: home grown.”
Grass-fed beef has become quite popular as the public becomes more educated on the foods that we eat.
“I can’t keep up with demand,” said Johnson, who must take his cattle up to Fauquier County to have it processed, as USDA-approved facilities are hard to find these days.
Rene Lickey of Nearwater Gardens and Botanicals learned to farm from her godparents in Stafford County. She also learned how to cook from them.
Lickey and her husband Dennis, whom she affectionately refers to as “Grumpy,” have a small farmette near Chilesburg. There they have two greenhouses and a commercial kitchen.
Among the mouthwatering baked goods the Lickeys sell are “Cinnamon Raisin Tater Bread,” sourdough baguettes, beer bread with cheese, banana bread, and corn muffins with cheese.
Lickey said she retired from Social Services after 22 years and thought she was done with processing paperwork. The only downside of being a small businessperson, she said, “is more paperwork than ever before,” she said.
Dennis Criley and his wife Kim run Slow Grown in Virginia from their 50-acre farm in Woodford.
“We do a little bit of everything,” Criley said. “We are one of those folks crazy enough to do it all,” the retired U.S. Marine said. They raise animals for meat, have chickens for eggs, produce grains and vegetable crops, and grow herbs and make soap the traditional way. They also keep bees to produce their own honey.
Among the interesting vegetables they sell are Tokyo Bekana, French radishes and hailstone (white) radishes, turnips, cap soy, and English peas.
The Crileys are very serious about healthy eating and are happy to tell customers about it.
“We don’t do anything synthetic. It’s all natural,” he said.
Kim Criley had serious health problems since she was 9 years old and has completely turned her health – and life – around by emphasizing fresh, natural locally grown food.
“As a child I had ulcerated colitis and arthritis and was one of the worst cases they’d seen.
“Dennis had to travel from North Carolina to visit me in a hospital in Pennsylvania. That was our ‘dating,’” she said.
“A friend told me how to take the toxins out of me, and I studied to be a certified nutritional counselor to bring health to others,” she noted.
Javier Godines and his wife Alicia Becerra of J & A Produce come to the farmers market from Millers Tavern in Essex County and have a large array of vegetable to sell. “About 99 percent of my produce I grow myself,” he said.
“I have been doing this business for 12 years. We have two greenhouses and 30 acres of rich land,” he said.
Sharon Hall has a herd of 22 Alpacas at Alpacas of Lakeland Woods on Jericho Road. They produce wool for yarn, and she belongs to a cooperative that makes very soft and elegant socks that she sells at the farmers market.