Tuscaloosa Farmer's Market successful for vendors, foodies

Serena Bailey

Saturday mornings start early for Kyle Platt. Every weekend, he spends thirty minutes loading his truck full of fresh produce, drives to Tuscaloosa’s River Market and then spends an hour setting up his stand. But it’s worth it to be able to share his passion of food and farming with others.

Platt is the assistant manager of Snow’s Bend Farm in Cocker, and one of many Alabama farmers, bakers and vendors who are a frequent fixture at one of Tuscaloosa’s most successful events, the market on the Black Warrior River.

“Coming to this market and sharing recipes with other people that have never tried fava beans, for example… those recipes you share with people, people come back for that,” he said. “And it’s not a marketing gimmick, it really is a relationship between a vendor selling a quality product and someone that wants to experience that quality product. There’s not a sleazy businessman you know what I mean? It’s different that that here. That’s the beautiful thing about the market.”

That feeling is part of a growing trend to buy local food that’s making farmer’s markets like the River Market popular all across the country. And it’s not just produce. Bakers and small companies like the Birmingham-based Magnolia Mixes are setting up at the markets too.

“I think just getting away from big farms, big companies that produce our food, there’s a renewed interest in that and in keeping the money in the state, keeping the money local, giving your money back to the farmers, buying from them instead of buying from a big company where the money is going worldwide,” said Carol Austin, a representative of Magnolia Mixes.

Some local bakers like Rain Tilly bake from home and only sell at their local farmer’s market. Tilly, who bakes mini pies under the brand name HipPies, said she thinks the location of the River Market helps it have a bigger influence on the community.

“I’ve seen people who don’t normally come to a farmer’s market actually coming and checking it out, and that’s a really good thing you know,” she said. “Quite a few people have been running and come through here and said, ‘I had no idea there’s a farmers market,’ and I start seeing them come in here to get their produce and stuff.”

That diversity is one of the things that makes the River Market such a local success, Platt said. The integrity of the market, according to him, is maintained through the use of only local vendors and the new and returning customers’ passion for local, homegrown food.

“When you come to cook this food, it is better than any fatty, sugary, fast food,” Platt said. “That food it’s designed to make you feel good, and I guess you could say some of it is tasty, but this is a lifestyle of food. It’s a life dedicated to taste to preparing a dish knowing, feeling the bite as you’re cooking a squash or preparing a cucumber salad. It’s a totally different way of looking at the world, not just food.”

And it’s a lifestyle Platt and other vendors love to share with their customers. The River Market is open every Tuesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.