When Sue Wakefield thinks of the Fort Mill Farmers Market, it’s the people she remembers most.
As owner of State Line Gear, where she creates comfortable clothing with catchy phrases centered around Fort Mill, Wakefield has been a part of the market since its first season in 2020. During that time, she’s used the market to connect with her customers.
“I have always looked forward to meeting new people and seeing familiar faces come back week after week. I love hearing stories about the Fort Mill of yesterday from people who were born and raised here. And I love hearing from people who have just moved here from all over the US and what attracted them to our amazing town,” Wakefield said.
From coffee to tomatoes, from flowers to handmade crafts, the Fort Mill Farmers Market has quickly become a destination for the community.
Town Events Coordinator Jacona Hester remembers the humble beginnings of the market, which first opened to the public in the spring of 2020.
“It was Town Council’s dream to have a vibrant Farmers Market and the Town has certainly been able to accomplish this,” Hester said. “It began in 2020 with just 5 vendors in Veterans Park and it has grown in 2022 to between 35 and 45 vendors weekly.”
The Market is held each Saturday between May and October, from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. at Veterans Park, 106 N. White St.
Wakefield credits the market for helping her business grow.
“I started State Line Gear on my dining room table and I needed a way to get my items in front of people,” she said. “The Town of Fort Mill made it easy and affordable for me to do just that every Saturday morning. My business grew, awareness of my business grew and it gave me the confidence to keep going.”
This year Wakefield opened her first retail location at 118 Academy St, Suite 103. There she offers an array of clothing options, including sponge fleece hoodies, lightweight t-shirts and hats with retro chenille patches.
“It really does feel like a dream coming true,” she said. “I feel grateful to the Town of Fort Mill team for giving me a venue to plant the seeds of my business.”
‘Coffee and conversation’
For Nick Conforti, owner of Humble Cup which provides fresh roasted coffee to excited patrons each week, the Farmers Market has had a huge impact. Conforti was one of the original group of vendors who helped kick off the initial Market season.
“I can honestly say the Farmers Market means everything to us. When the posting about a new Farmers Market came out back in 2020 I was selling my coffee out of my garage to my friends and neighbors. I didn't think I was ready to start selling it to the general public,” Conforti said. “Our community welcomed us with huge arms into the market and is what made us who we are today. We would not be in business without the Farmers Market and we plan on being a part of it each and every year.”
Conforti initially began with just a tent and some tables and a few coffee flavors. They expanded this season with a coffee truck and will soon have a brick and mortar store at 414 Tom Hall St.
“The growth of our business over the last several years has been hard to believe. The number of customers we have that come out week after week just for our coffee and conversation has been even more astonishing,” he said. “We have been amazed to see the same faces since the start of the market and love creating long-lasting friendships and look forward to many more new ones to come.”
They now offer a wide variety of flavors, including their most popular drink Blackberry Toffee iced latte, and will soon offer teas, Kombucha and pastries from Virtuoso Breadworks at their physical location when it opens in late 2022/early 2023.
Katie Marshall has a similar story about how the Market helped introduce her product to a new customer base. As owner of The Craftsmen Beverage Co., Marsall helps market a variety of handcrafted cocktail and tea syrups.
“The face-to-face interaction is one of our favorite things about vending at the market. Our business took off during 2020 when we were delivering to people’s homes so finding an outlet beyond that time period to still connect has been so important,” Marsall said. “Getting real time feedback from our customers has been invaluable in hearing what their favorite products are.”
She said the Fort Mill community has been extremely supportive of the business.
“We have seen a strong following,” she said. “It is always a pleasant surprise to run into someone outside of the market and hear about how they are enjoying what they grabbed at the farmers market.”
‘Tis the seasonings
Several of the Market’s regular vendors credit repeat customers for their success and have found ways to keep their business known during the Market off-season.
Brian Miller, CEO of White Wolf Rubs which offers crowd favorites such as Arctic Savory Seasoning, has enjoyed meeting new customers and growing his company’s following while at the Market.
“We have a lot of repeat customers weekly and we have a few new customers that will follow us on Facebook and Instagram,” Miller said. “We were very pleased with the 2022 season.”
Trip Kinmon, Chief Seasoning Officer of Trip and Peggy’s Cajun Seasoning, said the Market has been important to him and his wife as Fort Mill residents.
“It has offered an opportunity for exposure for our seasoning and for meeting so many wonderful vendors and shoppers,” Kinmon said. “We love seeing the regulars at each event and are happy to see new faces, names and products. We also very much enjoy when they tell us about new and exciting Trip and Peggy’s uses and recipes that we hadn’t thought of or tried.”
Both White Wolf and Trip and Peggy’s have expanded their presence in Fort Mill and their products can now each be found year-round at The Peach Stand and PuckerButt Pepper Company.
Agriculture products have been a staple of the Market for years. Each week brings vendors featuring fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, among other items.
Two Creek Farm is one of those vendors. Owner Robin Beam who manages the business with her husband said they have focused on creating a sustainable farming model.
“Our farm has been overjoyed with the degree of support and dedication the Fort Mill community has given us in buying our produce. Being on such a small scale, we feel that we have to focus our production on hard to find, tasty heirloom varieties,” she said.
Their two biggest sellers this year were heirloom tomatoes and patty pan squash.
“All of the people that have tried these products are blown away by the taste,” she said. “We are currently working on our organic certification and deciding on new and unique vegetables to plant for next year. We go to other markets during the week but Fort Mill is by far our favorite.”
Even though the 2022 season just ended, Hester is already looking ahead to next year and anxiously anticipating the 2023 season.
“I love seeing our community come and participate in it. I love seeing them buy things, bring their families, bring their dogs. I like that it’s become a destination for our community to find and buy local products,” Hester said.