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Southside-Farmers-Market-Clyde-and-Gradys-Hart-1st-place-stand-1934-grandparents-of-current-board-president-Bill-WilderBy Michelle Briggs Wedaman, an urban planner and community development consultant specializing in placemaking, focuses on collaborative community development projects and community relations for food, arts, parks, and artful public spaces.

Saturday morning, Fort Wayne – The residential streets are quiet, the old city sleeping around you, until you turn onto the 3300 block of Warsaw Street in Fort Wayne, where the historic Southside Farmers Market fills a city block, about two miles south of the downtown courthouse. It’s early Saturday morning, weekly market day, and the trim white barns — connected single-story rectangular halls that resemble agricultural buildings typical of county fairgrounds of the early twentieth century – are a center of activity. As you pull into the open gravel lot adjoining the market and park, others are parking along Warsaw Street’s newly poured street curbs and sidewalks.

Fragrant wood smoke greets you as you open your car door, and there, from the market’s chimneys, you see the curling smoke itself. The cold season has the market barns’ side doors closed, the suspended wooden panels slide on overhead tracks. Tucking your market bags under your arm, you’re swept into the movement toward the door, joining a family, and an old man, and a young woman dismounting and pushing her bike to the newly installed bike rack, fittingly positioned on the concrete slab that once housed the public trolley stop that serviced shoppers in the market’s early years. Stepping to the door in the covered wooden vestibule at the northwest end of the buildings, you’re inside now: a bustle of bright colors and smells of produce and fresh herbs and baked goods and the wood stoves, chatter of conversation, warmth.

You have stepped into Fort Wayne’s oldest continuously operating farmers market, recognized as a City of Fort Wayne Historic District since 2001, “the structures that house the market are unlike any others in Fort Wayne, representing the only location in the city with the feeling of a historic, rural fairgrounds. The buildings retain their integrity as they were first constructed and represent an important landmark,” explains Creager Smith, Historic Preservation Planner for the City of Fort Wayne.

This is a living landmark. Many vendors have family roots dating to the market’s beginnings in 1926, when the barns were built. A mix of long-time and young vendors sell seasonal, locally and regionally-grown and heirloom vegetables, herbs and fruit, cut greens, traditional and gluten-free baked goods, jams, teas, handcrafted jewelry and art, soaps, crafts, books, dishes, and antiques. At the market’s center, you can buy a hot breakfast or lunch from Annie’s, an old-fashioned lunch counter dating to 1930; and from the Meat Counter, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meat and eggs from Deb and Dwight Fishburn’s 20-acre farm near Markle.

During its early years, the market was open year-round, three days a week, with 97 occupied stands and additional producers set up outside. Now, with 20 to 50 vendors depending upon the season, the market is open every Saturday from 7am – 1pm from April through December.
The market, despite its age, is still being discovered by many shoppers.

“I’m struck by the market’s continued vitality,” muses Creager Smith. “It’s a well-kept secret for some, with a group of regular, loyal customers and a friendly, neighborhood character.”

CarrieAnn McClure, a social worker in her late 30s, who lives a ten-minute drive or a fifteen-minute bike ride from the market in the Harrison Hill Neighborhood near Rudisill Boulevard, has been shopping nearly every week at the market since she was introduced to it by a friend six or seven years ago.

“It’s fantastic! It’s the closest thing to my grandma’s kitchen that I’ve found. It’s warm and inviting and friendly and those wood stoves smell wonderful. It’s lively with music like the guitarist or other musical groups. It’s always festive and homey.”

Her kids, ages 10 and 6, enjoy the market too and she likes that they are learning about their food sources. “The vendors like to ask about my kids if they’re not with me, ” she explains, “and if they are along, they’re always giving them little treats, a piece of fruit or a cookie or a little piece of jewelry.”

Purchasing about seventy percent of her family’s food at the market, McClure likes to buy produce in season and preserve it by canning and freezing. “I’m interested in healthy eating and local meats too. The Fishburns’ meats (from the Meat Counter) are so reasonably priced; they have wonderful pork and their chicken is food like it’s supposed to be. I try to keep some of their chicken frozen for dinners, and I ran out one night recently so I grabbed some at the grocery store. It was fine, but compared to theirs? Nothing like the taste of theirs, which is gorgeous. I’m looking forward to one of their fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving. It’s so good there’s no need to brine it. I just gently season it and stuff it with aromatics like apples, garlic and rosemary – it’s so moist and delicious!”

Another customer, Dan Dahling, 57, a Lutheran pastor, travels the twenty minutes to the market with his wife Tamara from their home in northern Adams County early most Saturday mornings, drawn by the market’s unique goods, diversity, and warm sense of community. Born in New Haven, Indiana, Dahling began shopping at the market three or four years ago when his wife discovered it. “As a people person, I love it,” he explains. “We live in a rural area and love being with all the people from different backgrounds converging in one place. I also enjoy the live music playing and the smell of the wood stoves.” The Dahlings have their own garden, which they supplement with produce from the market. “The food is good quality and very reasonably priced. We especially like trying heirloom herbs and other unusual produce, like fennel bread from Heidi.” (Heidi Marks, of Heidi’s Bread Basket, at Stall #48, bakes a variety of European-style crusted breads, baguettes, croissants, and gluten-free breads.) Dahling exclaims, “One stand has twenty or more varieties of garlic, I didn’t know there were so many kinds! (Susan and Mark Loebert, of Naturally Grown Farm in Roanoke, at Stall 18, specialize in heirloom and hard-to-find varieties of vegetables; their Fall harvest includes a variety of carefully labeled potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, squash, and greens.)

The vendors enjoy the market’s character too.
Philippe Carroll and Samantha Eve Marie, whose growing city farm Young Urban Homesteaders is just north of downtown Fort Wayne, describe themselves as “individuals linked in a web of positive relationships building our dream. We are exploring the production of food, energy, community, and the arts. We are learning and growing together as souls sharing what we are passionate about.” On a recent market Saturday Philippe remarked on another aspect of the market, supporting “local economy – it’s voting with your dollar.”

Angie Quinn, co-owner of Pembroke Bakery & Café, which has operated downtown since 2011, also sells her baked goods at the market. “I enjoy being a vendor and customer at Southside because is a lively, engaging activity that I have gone to since I was a kid, like my parents and their parents did. It’s a way of keeping in touch with Fort Wayne.”

Immediately to the right as you enter the main doors is the slim, spry Angus “Bud” Giant (at Stalls 55-57) who began selling produce seventy years ago at the market when he was ten, first with his father Angus and grandparents Henry and Hattie Giant, now with his son Greg. The market, originally privately owned by a group of founding families, is now run by a nonprofit board, with Bud serving as Market Master since 2002. Opening the market buildings on a chilly November Monday to meet an electrician, he grins, “Why do I still do it? Well, it keeps me busy, that and regular visits to the farm. It gives me something to do.” Bud will turn 80 on December 20, the final day of the 2014 season. Don’t forget to wish him a happy birthday!

The Waynedale News Staff
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Michelle Briggs Wedaman

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