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July 31, 2014

Carolina Forest farmers market off to a hot start

The Carolina Forest farmers market drew a big crowd Thursday during its first day of operation, but officials are waiting to see if that level of foot traffic continues throughout the summer before making any permanent plans.

The Carolina Forest farmers market drew a big crowd Thursday during its first day of operation, but officials are waiting to see if that level of foot traffic continues throughout the summer before making any permanent plans.

“It was a little busier than we initially anticipated,” said Blake Lanford, regional lead agent for Waccamaw Market Cooperative. “It’s really tough to gauge the market’s success in a one-week scenario, but the traffic was so much higher than expected.”

The amount of vendors also surprised Lanford, who only had a few commitments as of two weeks ago. He said the market gained more vendors than he had originally hoped for, but will wait a few weeks to figure out how many will participate consistently.

The next step for the market, if it continues to be a success, is to find a permanent, reliable facility to hold the weekly event. Lanford said the markets always start on public property to gauge interest, but shift to a more expensive, private facility in order to sustain a presence in the community.

“We’re excited to be in the Carolina Forest area, and we have half the season left, so I think we can establish a presence there,” Lanford said.

Next week the market will shift forward slightly – closer to Carolina Forest Boulevard – so the grass under the tents doesn’t wither and die. Parking in front of the library and recreation center will stay the same.

“Today was a very healthy market, no doubt about that,” Lanford said. “And if the weather holds out next week ... then maybe we can have a day as good or even better than today.”

The market will be open Thursdays through October from 1-6 p.m. in the Carolina Forest Recreational Center parking lot.

Carolina Forest is joining the ranks of Surfside Beach and Conway as markets under the Waccamaw Market Cooperative, a nonprofit organization that manages and coordinates community-based farmers markets throughout Horry County.

“When we started out with our market program in Horry County in 2008, we envisioned a network of markets as opposed to a market in one or two places,” said Lanford. “We started in Conway, and then we started building a broader plan where we target markets in different areas that pull from the same subset of growers.”

The cooperative currently has a market in Conway, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach, which allows for little overlap in attendance. Lanford said markets generally pull foot traffic from a five-mile radius, so Carolina Forest should be safe from Conway’s overlap.

Waccamaw Market Cooperative had been looking for another area in need of local food and crafts, and after surveying Conway market’s visitors found the Carolina Forest ZIP code kept appearing.

“We decided to look into that area and that opportunity, and the Horry County board members expressed some real interest in getting one there,” Lanford said. The Carolina Forest community seems to support a new market as well – a post about the market on the association’s Facebook page received more than 2,000 likes.

“For us, you’ve got to translate ‘likes’ into sales,” Lanford said.

Though most farmers markets start early in the morning, Carolina Forest’s traffic doesn’t fit an early morning, middle-of-the-week pattern.

“Most of the folks that live in Carolina Forest work, so there’s not a lot of traffic in that area during the morning,” Lanford said. “We wanted to capture that traffic coming home from work, and we’ll see if that works – if not, we’ll shift it.” Thursdays were the only days not currently taken by other markets in the cooperative.

For more information on the upcoming market, or information on the area’s other daily markets, visit www.waccamawmarkets.org or call Lanford at 365-6715, ext. 115.

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