INTERVIEW WITH SIM MCIVER
MANAGER OF THE STATE FARMERS MARKET IN RALEIGH
The State Farmers Market in Raleigh is conveniently located on I-40 and Lake Wheeler Road, exit 297. Covering 75 acres, the modern facility with its sixteen separate buildings provides Over 240,000 square feet of covered, climate controlled, all season retail and wholesale spaces. There are special promotions planned throughout the year to bring attention to commodities during the peak of their individual growing season. The market is a year-round, operating 7 days per week, 364 days per year, closing only on Christmas Day. The Market has both retail and wholesale operations serving much of central and eastern North and Carolina.
Today’s interview is with Sim McIver, the manager of the State Farmers Market, and while he has been with the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) for more than twelve years, he has actually worked in NC agriculture his whole life. Like many in rural NC, he spent many hours working in a tobacco field growing up. Later, he attended NC State University and graduated with degrees in Horticulture and Agriculture Business. He still lives on the family farm with his wife and his three children.
Interviewing Sim today is Maggie Kane, founder of A Place at the Table, the first pay-what-you-can cafe in downtown Raleigh. Through her work with people on the streets, she realized the power of community and the beauty in bringing people together over incredible food. A Place at the Table serves only fresh, chef prepared foods, and partners with local farms and local vendors to provide the freshest ingredients because she believes everyone should have access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.
Sim, I really appreciate the opportunity to interview you today. As you may already know, Our café only serves the freshest foods and much of what we get comes from local farmers and growers, many of which also sell to the public in your open-air Farmers Building. We certainly appreciate all that you do to help keep our NC farmers in the business of providing fresh produce to all of us here.
Thank you Maggie, and we do our very best to ensure that the public can get the freshest fruit and vegetables here that are produced by NC Farmers. And we always use this same fresh produce in our restaurants here as well.
I would like to begin by saying that the facilities to market fresh fruits and vegetables in the Raleigh area have been around for years. The origins of the State Farmers Market date back to pre-World War II when produce was sold in the old downtown Raleigh City Market. You may find it noteworthy that many of the buildings and the cobble stone streets from that time still exist today.
That is interesting, Sim. Can you us where this area is and what is there today?
For those who have not been there, this is still called Raleigh City Market, still has the original cobble stone streets and buildings, and is now home to several restaurants, art, and retail shops. Its website is at https://citymarketraleigh.com/
What happened next?
At some point there was a study done that indicated that fruit and vegetable wholesalers, truckers, and farmers could increase sales and provide better service if there was more spacious location. In 1955 a private developer constructed a new 17-acre market on Hodges Street, north of downtown. Three years later its farmer section was leased to the NC Dept. of Agriculture, and in 1961 was purchased by the state who turned it over to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Very interesting. Does the Hodges Street Market exist today?
Maggie, it does not. By the mid-1970’s, it had outgrown its capacity and could not accommodate demand. So, a new larger site was chosen - the NCDA dairy farm next to Dorothy Dix Hospital on Lake Wheeler Road which afforded easy access to I-40 for farmers, truckers, and customers. And in 1991 the State Farmers Market opened at its current location, next to NC State Centennial Campus and Dix Park.
You might find it of some interest that since it was known that both Union and Confederate troops camped here near the end of the Civil War, local archaeologists and Civil War enthusiasts searched for artifacts before construction began. You can find some of their findings on display at the Market office.
You said the market was turned over to the Department of Agriculture in 1961. Is this still the case?
Yes, they still operate it. The Raleigh Market is the largest of four such markets operated by the Dept. of Agriculture. The others are the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market in Colfax, the Charlotte Farmers Market, and the WNC Farmers Market in Asheville.
Piedmont’s market has a large farmer’s area, retail element, wholesale operations and a restaurant. Charlotte’s is primarily a retail operation, and WNC has a garden center, farmer’s area, retail shops, wholesale, and a restaurant.
Sim, I really did not realize the Raleigh Farmers Market was the largest. Now can you tell us what can we see and do there?
There is a lot to talk about and most first-time visitors are really astounded when they see what we have to offer them.
Let’s start with the 30,000 square foot open air Farmers Building, the anchor of our facility. As expected, this is where farmers sell fresh produce, plants and specialty items produced on local farms from across the state. Plants are usually available in March and a fresh, wide variety of local fruits and vegetables are sold throughout the entire growing season.
Many farmers come here from the fertile farmlands to the east of Raleigh in counties like Harnett, Johnston, and Sampson. Return customers get to know these farmers and they are glad for you to ask them about the crops they grow, how they grow them, and some have great ideas on how to prepare them.
Quite impressive! And we know you can take a break and dine at your market as well.
Yes, that is certainly the case. And while there are several smaller dining options I hope to cover later, I want to first discuss our larger and perhaps best-known venues.
Our N.C. Seafood Restaurant offers the freshest seafood both for dine in and take out. It has Calabash style with plates such as shrimp, flounder, trout, oysters, clam chowder and much more. I personally think they give generous portions. Please see https://www.ncseafood.com/
The other is our State Farmers Market Restaurant. It serves fresh southern-style country cooking for breakfast and lunch and is well-known for its “REAL BISCUITS” hand-made daily. You can get breakfast made to order right up to closing. Its famous lunch specials come with a choice of a meat, two vegetable sides, and a dessert.
The restaurant also hosts banquets, meetings,
parties, and charitable functions in evenings after it closes. http://www.realbiscuits.com/
Sim, these two make my mouth water, that’s for sure! What’s next?
Well, I would like to mention our Market Shoppes next. Surprisingly, a lot of new visitors go through the Farmers Building, make their purchases, and leave, not realizing that we have a 15,600 sq/ft enclosed and climate-controlled retail facility where you will find a variety of items for purchase including farm meats, eggs, cheeses, seafood, jams, jellies, candy, sauces, gift baskets, crafts, and even local wines.
It is amazing that one can go to the Market and not even realize that the Market Shoppes even exist. Is there anything else to tell us about the Shoppes?
Yes. Believe or not, there are a few other things you can do here as well. It has a 321 Coffee shop, a Market Grill by Carolina Crispy Fry, and even a sandwich shop. You can also purchase ice cream, fresh cooked cakes, pies, bread, pastries, and much more.
What can you tell us about your 2-acre outdoor Market Imports facility?
Here you will find unique architectural elements, stone, teak, pottery, wrought iron, cast iron, water fountains, wind chimes, home décor, and interesting items from around the world. If you are looking for pottery, they have lots of it. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter.
Can we do your pork facility next? We just love pork products, and this is our one-stop- shop for everything pork, right?
It certainly is and we are proud of our Nahunta Pork Center, and yes, it’s certainly known as a one-stop-shop for anything pork. Too many things to mention, but there are sausages, hams, salted fatback, side meats, bacon, chops, and deli ham. You can buy fully cooked ribs, pork, liver pudding, and chitterlings. Even fresh whole pigs, Boston Butts, ground pork, picnic shoulders, and just about any other pork product you can think of.
Lots of frozen items too, including vegetables, pastry, hushpuppies, sweet potato fries, onion rings, collards, stir fry mix, and much more. Check it out at https://www.nahuntapork.com/ for hours of operation.
Can I talk about our Craft Building now?
Sim, we did not know you also had a Craft Building.
Yes, and as you may suspect one can find all kinds of craft items here, including handmade baskets, stone engravings, soaps, lotions, candles, and kettle corn. But it has become much more than just about crafts over the years. Now, you can buy lemonade, tropical plants, CBD products, cooking spices, farm raised meats and much more there. You can even have your own knifes and scissor sharpened there.
And you have wholesale operations?
Good Question Maggie - We do have a 15,400 sq. ft. drive thru Wholesale Truckers Building where produce is bought in large volume. There are 7 large wholesalers that provide produce for the triangle area. Customers include grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, rest homes, and roadside stands. The sellers in this building handle large quantities of apples, tomatoes, peaches, watermelons, and cantaloupes as well as other fruits and vegetables.
How about the general public, can they go in?
As it is a wholesale operation; it is not like the retail buildings where you would spend a lot of time and as vehicles are driving thru the building, there are safety concerns. But you can go there to see how it is done and be sure to get an early start as it opens at 5 AM and close by 2 PM.
Do you have plans for general further development, improvements, or expansion at this time?
No plans for overall expansion at this time, but we are planning an alternate entrance exit that will connect to Lake Wheeler Road. We also have plans for a new building at the Nahunta Pork Center and Craft Building location, as well as upgrades to the Market Shoppes.
At more than 30 years old, we are starting to show our age. Things like asphalt, roofing, and lighting need attention, and some buildings are no longer being used as they were designed for. For example, when the market was first built, farmers backed their truck into the building and sold out of it. Now they have semi-permanent booths that stay in place even after the market closes.
And as one may imagine, the current demand for more electricity, internet access, and credit card machines were not on the radar in 1991 when the market was built as and need to be addressed.
What about parking?
We currently have over a thousand parking spaces, and while this may seem like a lot, during peak times such as on weekends, we could sure use a few more parking spaces so our patrons will be able to find open spaces quicker. We have plans to add more parking in the future and we are also currently working on an alternate entrance and exit that will connect our primary parking lot to Lake Wheeler Road. This will help alleviate many of the traffic issues we have on the weekends with customers trying to get in and out of the market.
Let me just say that no one who visits us, even during peak times, will have trouble finding a parking which is always free. Gates open at 5 AM and closes at 8 PM.
Wow, that is a lot of parking, so important for a safe and rewarding visit. Do you typically have any special events?
Yes, we do and so glad you brought this up. Events generally run March thru December. Many promote crops that are in season and at their peak. Our more popular events include the Spring and Fall Craft Fair, Strawberry Day, Peach Day, Watermelon Day, Decorate Pumpkin Contest, and the Market Shoppes open house.
Visit https://www.ncagr.gov/markets/facilities/markets/raleigh/index.htm for event information and our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/StateFarmersMarket/
Do you have programs and resources for school age children?
Maggie, we actually have tour groups with schools and organizations throughout the year, educating about the market and agriculture in North Carolina. We provide commodity information about crops, prices, farmers, and recipes, and market operations during these tours. We also provide recipes and educational information at our events thru out the year, and there is a Master Gardner’s program that is staffed on the weekend from Spring to Fall.
The Master Gardner’s program sounds interesting? How can those that may be interested learn more?
The NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteers have a weekend information booth that they staff here on weekends in the spring thru fall.
Learn more at https://emgv.ces.ncsu.edu/
Sim, what do you see as major issues going forward?
With over 3 million visitors per year, and an aging facility with buildings not designed for their current use, improvements will take time and we have a limited budget. There is also a vendor waiting list we would like to accommodate. Of course, food safety and safety in general are the most important things and we are always working on improving procedures in respect to this issue.
I feel that Ag education is a really big issue and not just a State Farmers Market problem, but a larger problem as well. As more people become removed from agriculture, the importance of agriculture gets lost. We must develop programs to better educate the general public on what farmers do, it is essential and important part of our everyday life.
Sim, that was very well said. We might be remiss if we did not ask you about the pandemic so can you please tell us about keeping your customers, vendors, staff, and food safe?
The Pandemic has been challenging for everyone and the State Farmers Market has been no different. The work we do at the market is essential to help sustaining our economy and food supply during this crisis. Our wholesalers supply grocery stores, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and restaurants. Our retail market provides produce and agriculture items directly to consumers. The NCDA&CS, our market staff, and our vendors all work hard to keep us safe and open. We provide vendors with personal protective equipment and pandemic training, and we have added staff and security on the weekends. Our farmers building was reconfigured to space customers and vendors out and hand sanitizer stations and signage were added as well as additional cleaning and operating procedures.
Is there anything else you feel might be of interest and encourage us to patronize the facility?
There is really a lot more to see and do here, but everyone should come out and explore on their own. For example, we even have a Super Sod retail operation at the far end of the Farmers Building - I like to tell customers they can take care of their entire yard out at the Farmers Market, between our plant vendors, super sod, and market imports.
We are open 7 days a week, year-round. Please come meet your local farmers, learn where your food comes from, and learn about NC Agriculture. Get a meal at one of our great restaurants. Remember, when you want the best, it has got to be NC! I hope to see all of you at the State Farmers Market soon!
Sim, thank you so much for sharing. There is really a lot to do here, and I hope others will soon take advantage of all that the State Farmers Market in Raleigh offers.
And for those that want to make a full day of it, the James B. Hunt Jr. Library and Lake Raleigh are only minutes away.
Hunt Library: https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/huntlibrary
Lake Raleigh: https://centennial.ncsu.edu/thrive/lake-raleigh/
The NCDA&CS Raleigh Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St. - Raleigh, North Carolina 27603
Phone: (919) 733-7417
Hours Of Operation
Monday thru Saturday 5:00am - 6:00pm
Sundays 8:00am - 6:00pm
Raleigh Farmers Market website: http://www.statefarmersmarket.org/
OTHER INTERNET RESOURCES
NC State Extension Master Gardener Program: https://emgv.ces.ncsu.edu/
N.C. Seafood Restaurant: https://www.ncseafood.com/
State Farmers Market Restaurant: http://www.realbiscuits.com/
Nahunta Pork Center https://www.nahuntapork.com/
Maggie Kane’s A Place at the Table: https://tableraleigh.org/
Read Maggie Kane’s interview with the Regency Park Partnership accessible via the archives in the main menu.