This weekend, I decided to visit and compare the Chapel Hill Farmers Market and the Carrboro Farmers Market.

I have ridden my bike to the Carrboro Farmers Market for years. As usual, the bike parking was full. I ended up locking my bike against a nearby tree. The vibe, the layout, and the vendors are why I love this farmers market. The gazebo had musicians playing music and people were enjoying the performance while sipping on drinks or eating pastries. This week, it was wildflower day, and I bought some snapdragons to take home, along with my usual greens and other items.

Bikes parked at the rack at the Carrboro Farmers Market
Usual situation of full bike parking

One of the features that make this farmer’s market so comfortable is that it takes place under a covered pavilion. There are big fans which help circulate air and the vendors under the pavilion are protected from the elements. Other vendors, are on grass or natural surfaces.

Detail; inside the pavilion at the Carrboro Farmers Market
Nice shelter and big ass fans make the Carrboro Market very comfortable

I took my purchases home, switched bikes, and headed to the Chapel Hill Farmers Market. Once there, I had a totally different experience. The bike rack was empty; I was the only person who got there via bike. (I did later see one e-bike and one other bike ride out.)

A bike parked at a bike rack
Different situation at the bike parking here

If you look at the photo, you will note that the Chapel Hill Farmers Market takes place on an asphalt parking lot. There is no shelter from the sun for the patrons. Saturday was not a particularly hot morning, but I felt like I was on the surface of Mercury. I feel sorry for the vendors. While they are all under their own canopies, the amount of heat coming up from all the asphalt is significant. I cannot imagine what it is like in July and August.

The Chapel Hill Farmers Market, otherwise known as the surface of Mercury
Not my dream of an ideal Farmers Market. What do you think?

This is totally subjective, but the vibe of this parking lot market does not come close to Carrboro. I did notice that many of the vendors I see in Carrboro are here as well, so the quality of the produce is the same. Plus, Chapel Hill does have baked goods from Loaf, a great Durham Bakery.

Why is the Chapel Hill Farmers Market like this? It all looks so tentative and itinerant. I would have thought that this was only a temporary measure, and that that it would get sorted after the construction of University Place has been completed. However, this is how this Market operated before the construction and this is my understanding of where the farmer’s market will also be located after the construction is complete.

Conceptual drawing of a proposed re development to the University Place
Why isn’t the owner of University Place making a real space for a Farmers Market?


From talking to folks at the market and in the town, my understanding is that the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market wants a permanent structure, but there’s a problem: the leases businesses have signed with University Place require visibility from the street without any structures in the way. The Farmer’s Market likes its current location. So the choices right now are to relocate the Farmer’s Market to another spot within the development, or the Farmer’s Market can stay where it is without shelter.

This is a shame – for customers, for vendors, and for using that space in more creative ways. When I served on the Chapel Hill Planning Commission, we reviewed the plans for the farmer’s market post-University Place construction. We thought there would be some nice, active green spaces used for the Farmers Market, a significant improvement over the current conditions. Even without a cover – which would be ideal – ensuring that the ground isn’t asphalt would improve the current market. Adding seating areas and outdoor space, as appeared in the planning documents (below) would add vibrant economic development to the area beyond the market.

Parks and Rec suggestions for the greens space for the farmers Market

Chapel Hill deserves a real farmers market. We hope that negotiations continue and that a more accessible, shaded market is created.


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John Rees lives in Chapel Hill. His day job is an enterprise architect for a big IT company. He was, until very recently, a member of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission and former chair. He serves on...