As a farmer, I can say the months of May and June signal the start of our growing season. Hay will be cut and baled, soybean and corn seeds will be sown, our calves will be weaned, the cows put out on summer grass, and barley harvested and put in the grain bin for winter feeding. Backyard gardens will start putting forth fruits and vegetables, making tomato sandwich lunches a staple, and supper sides an array of fresh produce. For anyone in Southside Virginia who doesn’t have access to a garden of their own, a trip to the Danville Farmers’ Market is the next best thing – and it is surprising what else can be found there.
Originally the Southern Railway Freight Station, the building that houses the inside portion of the market dates back to 1904, presumably when it was built. Historically, the station is one of the most important landmarks in Danville, being the hub where the two main economic exports of tobacco and textiles made their way from the city to the rest of the country. The station and surrounding buildings were purchased by the city of Danville in 1993, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and in 1996 – through the work of a group of civic leaders – federal funding was secured that revitalized and remodeled the buildings into what they are today.
The Danville Farmers’ Market was located at the Curb Market Building from the 1930s until 1996. Since that time, the Danville Community Market has been owned and operated by the City of Danville Parks and Recreation Department. The market bustles every Saturday from May until October, from 7:30 a.m. until noon. In the height of summer’s growing season, the market is also open on Wednesdays in July and August from 1 to 6 p.m. There is even a winter market every Saturday (weather permitting) from 9 am to 1 pm between January and March. The market is open rain or shine in the summer months.
Kenneth Porzio, market manager, said, “One big thing about our market is that it is a growers only market. Everything sold is grown and/or made by our vendors. We have producers – anybody who sells produce, meats, honey, agriculture products – then we have crafters and bakers.” During peak season, on any given Saturday, shoppers will find nearly 60 vendors selling goods consisting of seasonal produce; honey; beef, chicken, pork and lamb; a variety of local crafts, and homemade soaps, breads, pickles, salsa, canned goods, jams, and jellies.
Many of the vendors have been setting up shop for years. One family has been involved in the Danville Farmers’ Market for four generations, going back to their great grandmother selling at the old market. Vendors come from Patrick County, South Boston, and across the state, and shoppers be hard pressed to find a bigger market anywhere in Southside.
Porzio is proud of how much the market supports the community and said he saw firsthand its impact it has over the last few years. The market was able to stay open through the pandemic of 2020-2022 with restricted guidelines, and provided food and goods to the community when people were having a hard time finding supplies elsewhere. When egg prices in the grocery store hit $6 per dozen, people could go to the market and get fresh eggs for $3 a dozen and help support the local economy and growers at the same time. There’s unsurpassed value in having this local food source and not having to rely on big box stores to provide it.
In addition to growers, producers, crafters, and bakers, others come to the market to provide information and answer questions on a variety of topics. Every Saturday, Danville Master Gardeners volunteers are on hand to answer questions about growing plants and flowers, and sometimes they also have plants to purchase or seeds to give away. The market has a partnership with the Danville Humane Society, which provides a dog wash every fourth Saturday in the summer. There is a revolving non-profit table at the market that changes week to week, giving different organizations an opportunity to be represented.
A community garden is adjacent to the market as well. This area includes 15 plots and is available to River District community residents for free. Raised beds and water access are provided, leaving the planting, weeding, and harvesting up to the individual gardeners. This is an excellent way to give community residents an opportunity to grow their own food, share food with neighbors, and potentially learn a new skill in the process.
In addition to the Farmers’ Market, a lot of other city and Parks and Recreation events happen there. Visitors can enjoy Movies at the Market, which is set up inside, as well as Music at Market, with live band music on the deck once a month through the summertime. There are several other large community events every year, including Racin and Tastin, Shrimp Fest, and Brew Fest, which are all done through nonprofit boards that partner with the city. Then there is the Market Monster Mash at Halloween, which is basically a huge trunk-or-treat for children.
During fall and winter, there are three large craft shows – The Holiday Bazaar in November, and the Holiday Market and Holiday Retail Show in December. These events have over 100 vendors each and always sell out. The building is available to rent during the off season and is popular for receptions and large group events. From January through March, a Cabin Fever Concert Series is offered inside.
Porzio’s best guess on the number of people who come through the market in a year’s time is around 20,000 – and that’s just for the market, not the other events. The question is – have you been? If not, this is your sign to go.
To stay in the know on what’s happening at the market, meet the vendors and find out on a weekly basis who will be there and what they will have to offer, you’ll want to join the other four thousand people in the Danville, Va. Farmers’ Market Vendors group on Facebook. Happy market-ing!
Danville Parks and Recreation
629 Craghead St
Danville, Va. 24541
Learn about the author at https://ncvamedia.com/authors/meredith-bernard/