Originally created 01/04/06

Farmers market has grown into an Aiken institution



Activity at the Aiken County Farmers Market is confined to the weekends during the winter, but the warmth of the gathering place is enduring.

"We're all like family down there," said Hollie Gartman, who has been selling fruits and vegetables at the market for 17 years. "We do love our customers."

Construction began on the open-air facility in 1952, said Coleen Reed, the special events coordinator for the farmers market. The building opened May 21, 1954.

The market, which is operated by Aiken Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, was designated as an Aiken landmark in 2003. A historical marker will be placed at the site this spring, officials said.

It is the oldest county farmers market in continuous operation at the same location in South Carolina, Ms. Reed said.

The site has served as a trading place since the 1830s, when farmers sold their wares from a wooden platform.

"In 1833, the railroad came. They brought the people from Charleston, and they took Aiken County cotton back to Charleston," Ms. Reed said. "On top of the bales of cotton, the farmers set up buckets of flowers and garden produce. And part of the Battle of Aiken (during the Civil War) was fought right there on that little piece of land."

In the 1920s, farmers started selling produce from a Newberry Street shed. By 1951, both locations were struggling.

Cassie Mae Foley, 85, is a lifelong vendor at the farmers market.

"I went with my mother when I was a little girl," she said.

In fact, she said, her parents, John and Amzy Cromer, built the original 45 tables where farmers displayed their goods.

Mrs. Foley has seen many changes in the products offered at the market through the years.

When she was a child, "(Farmers) could carry their chickens dressed to the market. If they killed a rabbit, they could take that."

Younger people are starting to show interest in the market, Ms. Reed said. Since the fall, a master gardener has been on hand the first Saturday of each month to answer questions.

Customers today also have more interest in herbs and concerns about pesticides, she said.

"People tend to be looking more for naturally grown products that are grown right in Aiken County," Ms. Reed said.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at 648-1395, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.

If you go



WHAT: Aiken County Farmers Market

WHERE: Corner of Williamsburg Street and Richland Avenue

HOURS: 7 a.m. until vendors sell out. The market is open year-round, but peak season runs from May to November. The market is open Monday-Saturday during peak season, Friday-Saturday in the offseason.