One of the best ways to explore an area is to get acquainted with people who live and work there. And what better place could there be to meet them than the local farmers market? During a trip to Bryan, Texas, I visited the Farmers Market in Brazos County and met many vendors who epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit of the Lone Star State.
Connect Small Business Owners and Consumers
The Farmers Market in Brazos County, Texas, serves hundreds of shoppers in Bryan/College Station and the surrounding area. Vendors include farms, nurseries, and producers of specialty foods, all with deep roots in the Brazos Valley. The Market receives no city, state, or federal funding. It’s run by an all-member board, funded through vendor fees and staffed by volunteers.
The Farmers Market in Brazos County, Texas, was formed in the early 1970s with around five to 10 participants. It’s now a permanent fixture in the community and has grown to include over 70 vendors. Its mission is to support local farmers, growers, bakers and artisans and provide a gathering place where friends can meet while they shop. It also connects consumers directly with local agricultural producers and educates the public on the benefits of eating food grown and produced locally.
According to Abigail Noel of Destination Bryan, many customers shop at the Farmers Market in Brazos County and rarely set foot inside a grocery store.
How Vendors Exhibit at the Farmers Market in Brazos County
Vendors earn the right to exhibit in the Market by applying to be an annual or daily vendor. A daily membership allows vendors to see if selling through the farmers market is good for their business. Most vendors who purchase a daily membership upgrade to an annual membership. To be accepted for either, vendors must grow, produce or cultivate their product in Texas and prove they make the product(s) they want to sell.
The Brazos Valley Farmers Market Executive Committee evaluates all applications and strives to maintain a balance of the types of vendors who participate to avoid product repetition. For example, at this writing, they aren’t accepting new vendors who sell baked goods or beef products.
Many Market vendors also participate in First Friday, a monthly event that transforms Historic Downtown Bryan into a giant stage that features live music, art exhibits and street performances.
Who Are the Brazos County Farmers Market Vendors?
I talked to vendors who sold products that ranged from fresh produce, meats and cheeses to salsas, jams and sauces. I also saw baked goods, honey, pet treats and even ready-to-plant trees. Most of the vendors generate the majority of their sales through the Farmers Market in Brazos County and other markets. All have different motivations for starting their businesses.
Some vendors, like Darren and Karen Carter, started their business out of necessity. The Carters own Hollydew Farm and sell fresh-cut herbs, seasonings, jams, mustards, relishes, natural lotions, and lip balms. They use organic, sustainable, humane gardening and farming methods and make all products in small batches in their kitchen.
When their son was young, he experienced periodic hive and rash outbreaks. The doctor said the problem was probably a food preservative or additive but couldn’t isolate the exact cause.
The Carters had always enjoyed gardening and cooking. So, they decided to eliminate as much pre-prepared food from the family’s diet as possible.
They limited their diet to fruits, vegetables, whole grains and meat they raised themselves and began making most of their food from scratch. Friends and neighbors asked to buy the products and the Carters realized there was a demand for organic, additive-free products. Hollydew Farm was born.
Some customers order products online, but Hollydew Farm generates 95% of its revenue through the Farmers Market in Brazos County and other farmers markets, and by participating in First Friday.
Moonstruck Pastry & Coffee Co.
Many vendors follow a passion and end up with a successful business. Rebeca Cruz is a self-taught baker born and raised in College Station, Bryan’s next-door neighbor and the home of Texas A&M University. When she was little, her favorite toy was her Easy-Bake Oven. However, the TV show Cake Boss inspired her to “graduate” to the kitchen to bake cakes and pastries.
When she graduated from high school, she enrolled at Texas A&M to study Telecommunications. After a few semesters, she took a break because she wasn’t sure this was what she wanted to do. Although she’d lived in the area her entire life, she’d never been to the farmers market. When she discovered it, she realized she could start her own business and make a living doing what she loved.
Rebeca started Moonstruck Pastry & Coffee Co, submitted her vendor application, and has been baking full-time ever since. She does 100% of her business by selling at the Farmers Market and First Friday. A line forms at her booth the minute she opens because customers know everything she bakes goes fast. I had to stand in line to get the chance to interview her even though I didn’t plan to buy anything. The croissants and croquembouche are two of her most popular products, and regular customers say her coconut cake is “to die for.”
The Pickle Witch
Becoming part of a farmers market will help you grow your company, and it might even help you turn your life around. It did for Haley Richardson, the self-proclaimed “Pickle Witch,” who sells pickles, relishes and peppers.
Many customers stock up on jars of Classic and Habanero Dill Pickles. Those with more adventurous palettes opt for jars of “Hell Hath No Fury,” “Better Off Dead,” “Hellish Relish,” and “Mama Cried Candied Peppers.” Repeat customers always return their jars because Haley threatens to “put a hex on them” if they don’t.
Haley grew up brewing pickles in her grandmother’s kitchen. She had to stand on a wooden chair to stir the pots and fondly remembers the spicy smell of her grandmother’s apron. When she grew up, her family grew their own food on an off-grid sustainable farm in Southeastern Texas. She canned all the food they grew using the old recipes she’d inherited adding her own dash of magic.
Life happened, and she left the farm with five children and assorted pets. She returned to the Bryan area broke and fighting an alcohol addiction. By sheer grit and determination, she gave up the alcohol and used what she’d learned about farming and canning to create The Pickle Witch.
Today, she makes 100% of her sales through the Brazos Valley Farmers Market and First Friday. In 2022, she canned and sold over a ton of pickles. Her dedication to the people who surround her helps keep her sober. She said, “I now have an ‘important job’ to do. I’m dedicated to showing up for my community because they’ve always supported me.”
How to Visit the Brazos Valley Farmers Market
The Brazos Valley Farmers Market is located at 500 North Main St. in historic downtown Bryan. It operates year-round on Saturday from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon, rain or shine. Admission is free, and parking is available along the street. Pets are welcome as long as they’re on a four-foot leash. For more information, visit the website or call (832) 585-3427.