More Than Just A Produce Stand
HunkerDowns Fresh Market seeks to become hub for all things good and locally-grown
story and photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Michael Dean is wearing shorts and a t-shirt, despite the chilly rain that persists in dampening this early spring Friday morning.
He stands behind baskets brimming with red and green peppers, glimmering yellow wax beans, giant, Easter Bunny approved, hydroponically grown carrots and bright, crookneck squash.
Unhindered by the persistent drizzle and gloomy forecast, the stream of customers entering the unheated, tin-walled space of his produce stand in Madison Markets is steady.
These customers are at Dean’s HunkerDowns Fresh Market for crisp, raw spinach, bagged and ready-to-eat, from a farm in North Georgia. And to pick up recently arrived jars of cooked-on-the-farm vegetable soup base, from another supplier in North Georgia. The baby Vidalias from South Georgia are popular among this morning’s customers, as well. Even local Master Gardener’s Cassandra McGowan’s last two bottles of Bug Potion #9 are purchased within minutes of each other on a day that feels far removed from the sun-drenched days when insects will make snacks of tender, winterized skin.
And the cumulative voices of Dean’s customers echo what is evolving into a nationwide trend.
We want to buy locally grown food, as much as possible, they’re saying. We want to know the source of our food: we want our food to be safe and fresh and healthy, and we want to support local farmers and the local businesses that will support local farmers, they say, to Dean, to each other, to anyone in the market who will listen.
HunkerDowns seems the perfect place for locals to discuss the new food revolution. Even if the small market appears to be (to those who aren’t already in the know) just a produce stand.
Because Dean and his wife, Jennifer, are listening.
And already they are providing more home-grown options for the way locals buy their food.
“I just wanted to sell some tomatoes,” Michael says, but now he’s peddling Morgan County produced milk and eggs and even free-range chickens farm-raised in Apalachee.
Each week, more than 15 dozen local eggs and at least 100 gallons of Johnston’s Family Farm’s low-heat pasteurized, non-homogenized milk, move through the market, and Michael reports that customers are thrilled with the concept of local eggs and milk.
“We have a woman buying milk weekly who had never drunk milk before in her life,” he says. “Another family buys five to six gallons a week.”
Vicky Mooney is a regular produce customer. But she’s purchased Johnston’s milk from HunkerDowns since it first became available last fall.
“It’s the best tasting milk I’ve ever had,” she says. “And I think buying local is a wonderful opportunity.”
Mooney also recognizes the importance of the milk’s freshness, which is one of Jennifer’s favorite topics.
“I like telling them when the cows were milked and when the eggs were laid,” she says.
“The first Wednesday we were selling the locally produced, frozen free-range chickens, I told my daughter Sarah that those chickens had been alive on Monday,” Jennifer says. “She told me I was terrible.”
But, even at the young age of 10, Sarah Dean isn’t that different from most Americans. For years, people have given little thought to the origins of the food on their plates. Seasonal fruits and vegetables became all-year vegetables imported from South America. A pack of ground beef meant meat from 25 different cows instead of one. Milk went from glass bottles outside the front door to mass-marketed plastic jugs in convenience store coolers.
But the eat-local movement that took root in progressive regions is spreading down gravel roads and into more rural America, and Morgan County is no exception. Now our locals want to eat local.
Owner of CJ Orchards in Rutledge, Jim Markley, has planted 1000 tomato plants, as well as watermelons and cantaloupes, to sell alongside his peaches this summer, but this bounty will also help supply HunkerDowns. A firm believer in the movement to keep agriculture in Morgan County, Markley supports Michael and Jennifer’s efforts to provide a year-round spot for locals to purchase produce grown at home or close to home.
“I think locally grown has swept the country. It’s the future,” Markley says. “People want to support the local farmer. They know their products are safe and fresh. And we’re going to work with whoever we can to make this concept work here.”
Other suppliers to the Dean’s market will be Tate Tewksbury and Chris Dean, Michael’s aunt. Both Tewksbury and Dean have supplied produce to HunkerDowns in previous growing seasons, but Michael’s excited about this year’s efforts. “These local farmers will provide a lot of produce,” he says.
What Michael can’t get locally, he gets regionally and, whenever possible, from within the state. Of course, in early spring, much of what he offers comes from Florida, but Georgia farms are pumping out some nice products right now.
Ask Mildred McWilliams, who has been driving from Covington to HunkerDowns weekly for the past three months.
“I eat a spinach salad every day of my life,” she says. “I’m not kidding.”
Her spinach source? That farm in North Georgia that supplies Michael with fresh bagged spinach.
“This is the best spinach,” McWilliams says. “It’s clean and it’s good.”
But, like Vickie Moody, McWilliams sees the benefit of buying from a local source being about more than personal health or enjoyment.
“It’s just a good idea to support farmers in the area,” she says.
Sunday at HunkerDowns was only slightly warmer and drier than Friday. But again, gray weather didn’t stop customers from stopping in. Master Gardener Flossie Dodge was immediately taken with the red peppers that added a brush of color to the day.
While Michael bagged up her baby Vidalias and red peppers, she discussed her plans for her fresh (and, she claims, much more affordable and better tasting than what she gets from traditional grocery stores) produce.
“I’m going to sauté those onions and red peppers and serve them on venison roast,” she says. When asked the source of her deer meat, she proudly explains that her son keeps her 100 acre plot of land clear of deer, therefore providing her with a ready supply of venison.
Dodge says she believes in eating hyper local. She’s making backyard venison roast to prove it.
According to Morgan County Extension Agent Bobby Smith, the number of people requesting soil samples for home gardens has doubled from last year at this time. Madison is offering community garden plots in the grassy spot in front of the renovated Piggly Wiggly. Rutledge Hardware Store owner Paul Jones reports that he has sold more potato plants than ever before, and management at Tractor Supply says that customers purchasing chicks this year weren’t just getting pets for Easter. Customers have repeatedly discussed plans to raise and eat their own chickens and eggs.
Michael and Jennifer want to make a difference in the way Morgan Countians think about buying and growing food. They have dreams of HumkerDowns being a place where growers, producers and consumers can make the concept of sustaining agriculture and eating fresher and safer a reality.
“I envision HunkerDowns being the hub of this movement,” Jennifer says. “We want to work together for a bigger picture. We can provide the outlet, we can provide the connections.”
Michael agrees. “If I don’t know how to sell someone’s extra produce, I can usually find someone who can use it.”
By teaming up with local restaurants, Michael is often able to get excess produce used in ways that delight and amaze. “There was some kale- and I didn’t know how to sell it. But I took it to Francisco at Town 220, and he did something wonderful with it,” he says.
The two are ready for the movement to take over in the area. They’re eager to take suggestions and do what it takes for HunkerDowns to be a place locals can depend on to be at the forefront of eating fresh, healthy, and, of course, local.
ways to eat (and grow) fresh and local
HunkerDowns is located in Madison Markets. Spring hours are Sunday 12-5, Monday through Thursday 10-6, Friday 10-5, closed Saturday. 706.817.5004
HunkerDowns VIP program
For $100.00 – you get 10 weeks of fresh produce – 10 pounds a week (yep, for only $1.00 per pound!). You pick the items from the produce available in the market. Going out of town one week? Not a problem – our VIP Program lets you use your weeks as you need to - no consecutive weeks or lost weeks with us. Refer a friend and you get one week of produce absolutely FREE – that’s 11 weeks total! Rejoin at the end of your first 10 weeks and get a 20% savings! That’s 10 more weeks of fresh goodies for only $80.00! Sign up at the market – Get your shopping basket, and start shopping!
Madison Locally Grown
This program is a sister program to Athens Locally Grown and will be available to Morgan County in April, according to Michael. The ordering is completed weekly via the website www.athenslocallygrown.net. Orders are filled by the farmers and when the Madison program is up and running, deliveries of the weekly orders will be available for pick-up at HunkerDowns. Locally produced breads and baked goods, local produce, fruit juices, natural healthcare items and more are available through this program. Items vary from week to week, and produce is picked to order.
For questions, call Michael at 706.817.5004
HunkerDowns Market Bulletin
A free, weekly emailed newsletter that includes a list of available goods and produce for the week, as well as any exciting news from the market and several recipes hand-picked by Jennifer that feature the fresh market arrivals.
Distribution for local growers & producers
HunkerDowns is available for local farmers, beekeepers, crafters, etc. as a distribution center. Michael encourages anyone with extra garden offerings to visit him at the store. Just because you have too much okra to eat doesn’t mean he can’t sell it. Your crop might make you some extra money and make a fellow okra-enthusiast very, very happy. Michael says, “I’m open to anything. Come talk to me!”
Published in the April 2, 2009 Edition