Visit Greenbrier Nurseries on any given Saturday year-round, and you will find a farm-to-table market in full swing, complete with fresh produce—some of it grown right on Starkey Road in Roanoke County—bread, jams, sweets, wine, prepared foods and music. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but regulars know to arrive early before their favorite items are sold out.
Celebrating its third anniversary last month, the market is the brainchild of Greenbrier owner Jim Monroe. It started in his Beckley, West Virginia, store during the recession. He realized they weren’t using all the greenhouse space, so they started growing food and microgreens, he says. That led to a market at that location and, a year later, in Roanoke.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that we have an all-star team of vendors,” he says.
The heart of any farmers market is the fresh, seasonal produce.
“We grow a lot ourselves,” he says, adding he supplements with farmers from German Baptist communities in Franklin and Giles counties. “We have an advantage because we’re a private market. There is a lot less drama and everyone gets along.”
Many of his farmers are involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The importance is the regular weekly traffic it brings in. People sign up for the CSA and come in weekly for six months to pick up their produce.
“It creates traffic and consistency,” Monroe says.
While the produce is the driver of the market’s success, Monroe surrounds it with prepared food and value-added products such as bread, jams, pies, cupcakes, fresh pasta and wine from a local winery. There is also live music every Saturday and special events like holiday markets, the Whole Living Expo and dog adoption events. He says one Saturday six dogs found new homes.
“We have a well-rounded mix of vendors,” he says.
Greenbrier has an advantage over many seasonal farmers markets. The versatile facility allows the market to operate all year. In bad weather, the market moves inside the store. During warm weather, it is outside. Monroe also can vary the size with the summer markets being larger than those during the winter.
Greenbrier also sells flowers, plants and gardening supplies. Additionally, the nursery has 64 community garden plots. People buy the plot and then have access to expert advice throughout the growing season. Monroe said Greenbrier will even till and clean up the plots for the owners.
“One of the things that make us unique is the volume of local food—more than any other market in the area,” he says.
The challenge in the beginning was to create the critical mass to make the food available and affordable.
“That’s something I’m proud of,” Monroe says. “There’s a serious amount of food moving through here on a weekly basis to give families a healthy option.”
Beyond fresh, seasonal produce, Monroe said some of the favorites week in and week out include Four Oaks Farms lettuce, Grateful Bread Company’s jalapeno cheddar (get there early—it sells out quickly) and Tha Best Kombucha. He said people bring their growlers to the Floyd-based vendor and fill them up.
There’s nothing like having healthy local food on your table. It can be a wonderful luxury and an inspiration to try new tastes and meals. What is available varies throughout the growing season, which keeps customers coming back. Monroe says the food is fresher because it has not traveled long distances. And, the produce grown at the nursery has no carbon footprint. The farm is a lot closer to the table!
As for what’s next, Monroe is preparing for the 2017 summer season. He’s also looking at creating a mobile market that takes produce and some of the most popular vendors to businesses, fairs or underserved areas.