BY ROXANA BOYD
Kellogg’s Breakfast, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, and Super Sweet 100. On Saturday, July 9, from 8:30 a.m. and until noon, these tomato varieties and dozens more will be on full display during the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Tomato Day. The annual event returns to Carrboro Town Commons for the first time since 2019, after pausing for safety reasons during the pandemic.
Tomato Day draws upward of 6,000 people, making it the Market’s biggest day of the year.
“Tomatoes are a big deal around here,” says Maggie Funkhouser, the Market’s manager, with a laugh. “They’re big enough for us to have a day dedicated to them.”
This year, in addition to the traditional tastings, visitors can taste tomato flights to sample the many varieties. The event will also feature live music, recipes, and special merchandise like Tomato Day shirts and posters. Ricky Moore of Durham’s Saltbox Seafood Joint – who won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast just a few weeks ago – will serve tasting portions of chilled yellow tomato soup with summer garden garnishes. “This is sort a homecoming for me,” he recently posted on social media, “because when I move here 14 years [ago] I worked in Carrboro and I spent a lot of time at the market and bonded with many of the farmers during that time.”
The farmers not only sell their tomatoes but share their knowledge and recommendations with customers, whether they have a recipe in mind or are searching for inspiration.
“It’s really beautiful in that way,” says Maggie. “It’s a wonderful chance to learn about this special fruit, special vegetable, and the farmers that just adore it and really put a lot of love into growing them every year.”
The farmer-customer relationship sets Carrboro Farmers’ Market apart, even on normal market days. Owners must be present during market hours for a certain number of weeks, giving customers a great sense of respect and trust when it comes to the products and where they come from, Maggie says.
The Market, one of the oldest and largest in North Carolina, is thrilled to be one of the 315 (and counting) certified living wage employers in Orange County – their certification became official last month.
“It’s a point of pride to be able to offer it, but it also is an expression of gratitude,” says Maggie. “It’s a way to appreciate staff members who work really hard and are really good at what they do.”
She and two other part-time staff members work as a team and rely on support from interns, students, the Market’s Board, volunteers, and the community at large.
“We have a really small team, but we do really big things, and we all wear a lot of hats,” she says. Managing the market, communicating with vendors, posting to social media, and writing grants – they do it all.
Maggie learned about the Orange County Living Wage certification program through living wage employers in the community – market vendors, restaurants, and others, including the Town of Carrboro.
“We have a really wonderful relationship [with the Town of Carrboro], and there’s a lot of mutual support,” she says. “Certainly, them being living wage certified is a hugely impactful thing, and it affected me.”
Two of the Market’s vendors are living wage certified – Chapel Hill Creamery and Short Winter Soups.
Flo Hawley, owner of Chapel Hill Creamery, wants her employees to be happy. “We want to be fair. We know that things in this area are good for sales, but it’s also expensive to live here, and housing is always an issue,” she says.
“[A living wage] means I can hold down just one job,” says Allana Frost, who works for Short Winter Soups. “I live with a partner, and together we can afford a mortgage and food and take care of ourselves.”
A living wage helps recruit and retain employees during a time when staffing seems to be difficult for everyone, says Flo. She believes her employees stick around because they enjoy local food and working with their hands.
The importance of local food came into clear view in the last few years, when the pandemic exposed a fragile food system and supply chain, Maggie says.
“We all acknowledge that we need to work together towards a stronger, more resilient local food system,” she says.
Shoppers found empty shelves at grocery stores, but the Carrboro Farmers’ Market could offer those products every single week, Maggie says.
“There’s a real symbiosis in Carrboro,” she says. “We have such a wonderful robust farmers’ market, and we have restaurants that are really interested in featuring local food.”