April 2018

Bluffton Farmers Market: Rain or Shine: Where Bluffton Comes Together

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

“This is the one day a week that Bluffton always comes together,” said Kim Viljac, director of the Bluffton Farmers Market since 2010. “You can come by yourself, and you’re going to run into somebody you’re related to, or your friends, or somebody you work with. It’s one day a week that you know where your friends are going to be.”

What began as a seasonal market from March to October in 2008, is now year-round, with operating hours set to consider the whole community. The market opens at 1 p.m., and as the days get longer, they try to stay open for people to come after work. “In the summer, people get here to do their shopping and then they stay and eat on Calhoun Street or on the Promenade,” Viljac said. “They’ll just hang out. And with all the people that visit Hilton Head, it’s fun to bring them to Bluffton.”

Each week, Viljac and her market assistant Jordan welcome farmers and vendors to their charming, canopy-lined portion of Calhoun Street at the very heart of the Bluffton Historic District. Rain or shine, the atmosphere is convivial and festive. Viljac works hard to maintain the unique nature of the market, keeping the number of vendors to no more than 40. Even with a waiting list, Viljac knows that any more would dilute the market experience. “If you haven’t been here before, you probably don’t know the variety we have. We have tons of different produce grown in different ways; we have honey, and fresh poultry, fresh dairy, fresh sausage, and specialty foods that people might not know about.”

The King of Pops frequently has a long line of little ones clamoring for popsicles.

As farmers markets go, this one is splendid. The variety of fresh produce, meats, breads, treats, and prepared foods, as well as crafts people, artists, and health and wellness vendors, all abide by the market tenets. “Everybody you find here can tell you what’s on their table, where it came from, and most times they’ve either grown it, cultivated it, raised it, or made it, themselves,” Viljac said. “We have a rule here at the market where vendors may supplement their offerings up to 50 percent of what’s on their tables from another local, small family farm. We define local as being from South Carolina, North Carolina, or Georgia. If they’re selling from another farm that maybe doesn’t have time to come to the market or doesn’t have enough to make it worth their while, they do have to advertise what farm it’s from.”

With the market being open year-round it can get challenging to fill the tables when growing seasons and harvesting drops off in the winter months. “We are fortunate that a few of our farmers grow in greenhouses and have been farming so long that they understand the climate here, and they understand how to plant and when to cover crops when we have snow. Of course, it affects them, but they know how to baby these things, so we can still get year around local producers.”

1.The magnificent Farmer Joe!
2.Fresh, farm grown basil.
3.Local, raw honey from Canewater Farm.
4.Every time the CH2 crew goes to the Farmer’s Market, they come back with a bag of kettle corn. It’s a tradition…and one of Lucy’s favorite treats.

Rainy days do challenge the market, but only in getting the word out that they are open for business. Unless there are high winds or lightning in the area, the selling goes on. The best way to know if the market is happening on any given week is to call the number on the market’s website or check their social media pages. A soggy day can’t hurt the produce; in fact, it’s their favorite kind of day. “They pick the stuff in the rain, they grow it in the rain. It doesn’t bother the produce or us; we’ll be here,” Viljac said.

As a member of the South Carolina Association of Farmers Markets and AG South, Viljac works to keep the market up-to-date regarding regulations and legislation happening in the region. The structure afforded Viljac and the board of directors resulting from these memberships, helps the Bluffton Farmers Market leverage its operation to be able to provide opportunities for local non-profits, schools, and organizations to share their messages, promote events, and fundraise. Non-profits are welcomed and given space to share their missions and to do a bit of fundraising. Sometimes it’s a local baseball team raising money for a state championship trip.

Slow-roasted beer can chicken available at the Market.
CH2 Catherine and CH2 Hunter strike a pose next to Sookie, the she crab soup truck.

Other times it may be an animal shelter, or EMTs, or a local theater. “We call it ‘Broadway on Calhoun.’ We’ll set up a stage, and the group will do a preview of their show so that everyone in the community knows about it.
“One of the great things about a farmers market is that it gives people a chance to start a business,” Viljac said. “Maybe they can’t afford a storefront or a brick and mortar building; this gives them a place to try out their goods, to grow things and make things, and test the market. A lot of people end up with a storefront.

Sometimes they leave me, which I love to see. They need a jumping-off platform to get going. All farmers markets do that for small businesses.” The first Thursday of the month, the Artisan’s Showcase may be found at the market as well—another opportunity provided to those starting out or working to start a business, this time for handmade arts and crafts.

Canned Habanero Chunk Pickles from the Great Food Co-op

Operated by a small staff and volunteers, the Bluffton Farmers Market relies on corporate sponsorships, private donations, and grants awards. For the second year, Montage Palmetto Bluff is the market’s premier sponsor. “They come out every third Thursday of the month and do ‘A Taste of What’s Cooking at …” Often it’s Buffalos, sharing their outstanding food and letting people know they are open to the public. Other sponsorships are available on a weekly basis, as well.

A visit to Bluffton on Thursday afternoons should most-definitely be mandatory. “Whether it’s honey or a barbecue sandwich, you will know that person, or someone in that tent, made that item, grew that item, or cooked that item,” Viljac said. “We’re so happy doing what we’re doing.”

For more information, please visit farmersmarketbluffton.org, follow them on Facebook, or call (843) 415-2447.

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