Locally produced goods take center stage as the Black Mountain Tailgate Market returns for 25th year
When Rick Pocock looks at a piece of wood he sees endless possibilities.
The distinct personalities of each slab of black walnut, poplar or maple, lend themselves to handcrafted pieces ranging from key chains to cutting boards to dining room tables.
“I look at the grains to get a feel for what I think looks right,” the Full Dimension Woodwork owner said from his home-based shop just outside of Black Mountain. “A lot of thought goes into every piece.”
Pocock is one of many area artisans, bakers, farmers and others who earn a living peddling the goods they produce. A number of them will return to the field adjacent to First Baptist Church on Montreat Road, from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, as the Black Mountain Tailgate Market returns for its 25th year.
The weekly producer-only market began as a small gathering of local residents selling fresh fruits and vegetables in front of the town hall in 1994. In 2008, the increasing popularity of the market led the market to install a board and establish itself as a nonprofit organization.
Today the market includes around two dozen members and features a diverse, rotating cast of day vendors. It runs from the first Saturday in May to the last Saturday in October.
"I was a day vendor last year," said Pocock, who discovered his passion for woodworking growing up in Western New York. "I was there just about every week during the summer."
The former home builder and Wesleyan minister started his woodworking business in 2018 and was drawn to the market, which features locally sourced produce, dairy, meats and a variety of artisanal goods.
While searching for a place he could sell his unique pieces, Pocock discovered the Black Mountain Tailgate Market. He reached out to market manager Joan Engelhardt.
"The first week I did really well," he said. "It was great because it's not a big time commitment, which is perfect because I also need to spend a good deal of time in the shop."
Pocock was eager to become a member of the market, and will begin his first season in that capacity this year.
Much of his time is dedicated to searching for cuts of wood that complement the pieces he builds.
"That's part of the cost of doing this, you have to be out there looking for the right materials when you're building stuff," he said. "I go out at least once a week just going to different places and looking at what they have."
Pocock takes a meticulous approach to woodworking.
"I don't mass produce stuff," he said. "I don't do identical cutting boards, none of my furniture looks the same. It's easier to make money if you mass produce, but I try to do my work in an artistic way."
That kind of approach is what the market seeks in members, according to Engelhardt, who is in her 10th year managing the collective.
"The market isn't just about food, even though the majority of the vendors offer locally grown produce and all kinds of other food," she said. "It's really kind of a family event, we have live music, Friends of the Black Mountain Library comes out and talks about their program, we have Buncombe County Master Gardeners there through much of July."
The market partners with Blue Ridge Pet Supplies, White Horse Black Mountain and several other community organizations, like Warren Wilson College, which is also among the regular vendors.
"The vegetable crew from Warren Wilson will be there selling vegetables this year, and that's something new," Engelhardt said. "The school will also be back for the third year selling with their wonderful beef, pork and lamb."
While hand-crafted wares like Pocock's can be found throughout the market, there is plenty of fresh food, the manager points out. The smell of Dynamite Roasting Co. coffee, a longtime member of the market, fills the air.
"We have so many great food vendors," Engelhardt said. "We have Highlander Farm, and they have amazing eggs. Bee Tree Farm has been a member for years and they have great honey. Highgate Farm grows amazing produce. It's a great chance to get to know the people who grow your food."
Among the local food producers at the market is Red Scout Farm, which grows a wide variety of produce near the center of Black Mountain. Owned by Mary Carroll and Griffin Dodd, the land has been in Mary Carroll's family for generations.
She grew up spending her summers riding to the farm on the back of her grandfather's red International Scout when he was tending the land. Following the death of her grandfather, John Alexander, in 2000, the garden was left fallow for years.
Mary Carroll, who was teaching biology and environmental science while living in New Bern, moved to Black Mountain with the goal of maintaining a farm on the family land. She named it Red Scout Farm, a nod to her memories of riding there with her grandfather.
"I'd always dreamed of starting a small farm," she said. "It was also a dream to grow vegetables and sell them at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market."
Red Scout became active in the market as a day vendor in 2016, less than a year after the Dodds moved to town. The following year, as Mary Carroll was pregnant, the farm scaled back its production, although she continued to grow and harvest vegetables.
In 2018, after the birth of the Dodd's second son, the farm grew only cover crops. This year, Red Scout is returning as a member of the tailgate market.
"It's a great community," Mary Carroll said of the vendors who make up the collective. "You meet a lot of good people and we've made a lot of friends there. We're excited to be back this year and looking forward to seeing everyone."
Like Pocock and other members of the market, Mary Carroll is dedicated to her work. She conducts regular soil samples at her certified organic farm, rotates crops and practices no-till agriculture.
"Tilling disrupts the soil structure," she said. "We use what's called a broadfork, which loosens the soil and allows us to come over it with a power harrow, which stirs about the top three inches of soil."
The technique improves the health of the soil, according to Mary Carroll.
Red Scout produces crops like buttercrunch lettuce, bok choy, swiss chards, broccoli, broccolini, kale and beets among many others.
"I try to plant things that are delicious and beautiful," she said. "Our cauliflower is a purple variety and we have a bright green variety of it I'm trying to plant this year. The chard is a bunch of different rainbow colors and I'm trying new varieties of kale as well. I want it to be pleasing to the eye and delicious."
The Dodds employee a community-supported agriculture model, which allows consumers to subscribe to a weekly selection from the farm. The vast majority of produce harvested at Red Scout, however, is sold at the tailgate market.
"We get a good crowd there every week, it usually gets busy around 10 a.m.," she said. "We have regular customers that come by each week and a lot of people who just come to check it out."
Pocock, who has also been commissioned to work on custom pieces through connections he's made at the market, is looking forward to his first season as a member.
"It will be nice to have a designated spot every week where people know they can come find me," he said. "And the market itself is such a significant part of the community, because it gives people a chance to support local businesses, and that's important."
It also gives folks unique insight into what goes into the goods they consume, Engelhardt said.
"It's your chance to participate in the local food system," she said. "It works for the customer, it works for the vendor, and I think that helps the community be happy and healthy."