AP NEWS

Vendors getting ready for Plant and Flowers Festival at market

April 14, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. -- Vibrant colors and floral aromas already fill the booths of the Pee Dee State Farmers Market.

Like the fresh blossoms of spring casting rich hues across the landscape, thousands of plants and flowers bloom under the market’s vast roof. An atmosphere of energetic anticipation hangs in the air as vendors work tirelessly to prepare for the Spring 2019 Pee Dee Plant and Flower Festival.

The Pee Dee Plant and Flower Festival will be April 25-28 at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market on West Lucas Street in Florence. The event is free and will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the festival with 50 vendors selling everything from ornamental plants, flowers and produce to swimming pools, flags and food.

“This is a great event for the whole family. You can come out each day for the four days and experience something different every day,” said Dianne Pruitt, owner of Two Girls Treasure vintage home furnishings store located at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market.

The festival is an annual event celebrating diverse products grown in South Carolina and heralding the beginning of the market’s busy season.

Bob Sager, Pee Dee State Farmers Market manager, said the festival is an exciting time for vendors and the public to enjoy all that the market has to offer. Attracting visitors from across the state, it is an important opportunity to reach people, he said.

“Part of our focus is to get folks who came just for the festival to come back and regularly attend the market,” Sager said.

The state of South Carolina owns and manages three state farmers markets – in Columbia, Florence and Greenville – that provide consumers with a wide variety of locally grown produce and specialty products.

According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website, the Pee Dee State Farmers Market was opened in June of 1983 on 55 acres that originally were used for production farming. Open year round, the market, with a 45,000-square-foot drive-through farmers shed, showcases some of the state’s freshest and finest produce and also has become a prime location for the ornamental horticulture and floriculture industry. The Pee Dee Market is a destination stop on the way to Myrtle Beach and for travelers north and south along the Eastern Seaboard, seeing more than 700,000 visitors annually, the SCDA website said.

Jason Lamb, the owner of Lamb’s Produce and a third-generation farmer, said the fact that the market is open year-round allows for customers to rely on fresh, local produce.

“We have big repeat business,” Lamb said. “We have produce all year, and the only produce that is not from around here is stuff that can’t be grown here, like bananas. When the flower show comes around, people might come once a year and load up on produce and flowers, but it’s important for them to know that they can get fresh, local food here all year.”

For Wolfe Gardens owner Debbie Wolfe, the quality and variety of the flowers and produce at the farmers market is much better than what is available at other places.

“An amazing thing about this market is how much the vendors know about what they’re selling,” she said. “These really are the folks who know what they are growing. You can pick out what you want, and then you also get the expertise and honesty of the vendor to help.”

Sager said the knowledge of the vendor is essential to the quality of the products they sell as well as the way they can share their knowledge with the customer. However, the job is often exhausting, and the effort can be unrecognized.

Lamb said it takes years to learn what people want to buy, and the work behind the scenes must be done, no matter what.

“There are no sick days in the produce and flower business,” Lamb said. “Even if you’re not busy with customers, there is lots of work to do to prepare. We’re constantly working to grow and restock our produce. It’s an everyday thing.”

As both a vendor and a customer of the market, Pruitt said it is essential to support the producers at the market. Since they are locally owned businesses, the farmers are neighbors, friends and producers who sell excellent products.

“The education of today’s consumer is first and foremost,” Pruitt said. “Teaching them about local food and where to get it is essential. Each generation needs to educate the next generation, and if we don’t start paying attention to our farms and farmers, we won’t know where our food is coming from. If we don’t support our farmers, they can’t do the important work that they do.”