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'Eat your vegetables'
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Farmers Market

There are a few things in life that most everyone can agree on. A freshly-cut, thick slice of tomato in between two slices of homemade country bread and a thin layer of mayonnaise is one of them.

Here in Dawson County, there are multiple opportunities to get that homegrown tomato and other summer vegetables without breaking ground in your own yard.

Two farmers markets are available through the summer months with freshly grown produce and, usually, inexpensive prices.

One farmers market, held in the parking lot of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, has already started up for this season. The market is a fundraiser for the Hall of Fame, but, according to GRHOF President Gordon Pirkle, its a service to the community above all else.

We just charge $10 a month, and they get to set up Tuesday and Thursday each week, Pirkle said. Its a good opportunity for people ... to come and sell them. Its real good for the community to come out and get fresh vegetables to eat.

Pirkle said that the market has yet to reach its full capacity this year. Peoples gardens havent come in yet, he said. When the gardens come in, therell be more out there.

The Dawson County Produce Market, hosted by the Extension Office, is returning for its 10th year, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Vendors from Dawson and surrounding counties are allowed to come and sell locally-grown fruits and vegetables. The market opens at 7:30 a.m., and runs until the vendors run out ... which can happen quickly, according to Clark McAllister with the Extension office. On some days, he said, vendors can be nearly sold out in two hours.

Several vendors are returning from previous years, including local farmer Grace Collett, who will be joined by her grandchildren.

We grow eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, she said. Well have some green beans, and two or three different kinds of squash.

For Collett, farming isnt just a way for her and her grandchildren to spend time together while making a little extra spending money. Its a way of life.

Im nearly 78 years old, she said, and my father had a farm, and we had to raise what we ate. I learned to work, and I knew I was going to have to ... so you accept the things that you cant change.

I guess the working thing got into my blood.

Along with a variety of vegetables, Collett also will have flowers for sale, including sunflowers and zinnias. Ive just got a lot of a bit of everything, and try not to have just one thing, she said.

Its not all vegetables and flowers, though. Theres some serious competition that goes on between the vendors as they eye other tables at the market.

Youve gotta grow the biggest, prettiest and best-looking tomato, said Douglas Hughes. Everyone picks out the biggest tomato. They do.

Hughes and his wife, Shirley, are also returning vendors. Ill be selling beans, squash both white and yellow cucumbers ... tomatoes are a toss-up this year. Hughes explained that this year he opted for growing beefsteak tomatoes, which take a bit longer to grow.

Like Collett, farming has been a lifelong habit for Hughes.

I was born in this county like a lot of people that go (to the markets), he said. Its what our parents did before us.

Hughes is also encouraging to those new to gardening. He said his family gets enough out of gardening in the summer to not only make some money at the farmers market but to eat throughout the winter. They use canning methods and their freezer to preserve food.

With the county agent around to tell you how to keep your plants healthy, he said, it doesnt take a big garden. You can get a lot of food out of small areas.

There is a general consensus that what is purchased at the farmers market is not only less expensive, but is tastier than what can usually be found in a typical grocery store.

Heres what you do, Hughes said. Go to the supermarket and buy one of their tomatoes. Then come to the market and buy a tomato there. Take them home and eat a bit of each. Theres no comparison.

Collett agreed.

Theres no comparison between a homegrown tomato sandwich and anything you can buy at a store, she said. Ive tried all the kinds in the store, and they just dont taste right.

The Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Farmers Market is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. The Dawson County Produce Market opens Saturday, June 30, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Its held in the parking lot of the Dawson County Agricultural Center, at 290 Academy Avenue.

For more information, you may contact the Extension office at 706-265-2442.