BEACON OF DELICIOUS HOPE: Port City Farmers Market offers new vendors, craft beer and gourmet treats

Folks biting at the bit for spring and summer farmers’ markets to begin can relax in the shining beacon of hope every Tuesday evening at Waterline Brewing. The Port City Farmers Market (PCFM) is giving Wilmingtonians a year-round farmers’ market. And added beer and gourmet chefs, too!

NEW MARKET: Chef Chris Estelle of Cape Fear Seafood serves up fried okra samples straight from Port City Farmers Market vendors. Photo by Tom Dorgan
NEW MARKET: Chef Chris Estelle of Cape Fear Seafood serves up fried okra samples straight from Port City Farmers Market vendors. Photo by Tom Dorgan

The market started in early November 2016. Upon a recent visit, the parking lot was overrun with vendors and attendees—quite impressive for a 5 p.m. Tuesday slot. Mushpa y Mensa organic and recycled clothing, Farmage, Ridge Farm Fresh Produce, The Pepper Mill Shop, Our Mom’s Best pepper jellies, and Changin’ Ways Farm and Farm Service out of Hampstead were lined up to sell their wares.

“We use the market like an incubator for newer up-and-coming vendors,” market organizer and Lunchbox Pickles owner Jules DeBord explains. “I love finding a new product that’s original and maybe needs a little help launching to a local audience. That’s how we started Lunchbox Pickles, and the formula seems to work pretty well.”

Aside from being able to grab a beer and shop for locally grown and/or crafted goods at PCFM, one major difference between DeBord’s market and others is a guest chef each week. For example, during a mild March afternoon, Chef Chris Estelle from Cape Fear Seafood Company was cooking up samples using ingredients found at the market: fried okra atop a bed of fresh watercress, arugula and sliced radishes, with a drizzle of tangy remoulade. Other top ILM chefs who’ve dished up goods at PCFM include Courtney Matheson of Delish; Surfhouse Cafe’s Craig Love; Jeffrey Porter of Dixie Grill and Port City Pop-ups; as well as encore’s 2017 Best Chef, James Doss of Rx (Best Fine Dining Restaurant) and Pembroke’s.

encore sat down with DeBord, who also sets up a tent each Tuesday for Lunchbox Pickles, to learn more about what’s to come.

encore (e): From where did the idea for Port City Farmers Market come?

Jules DeBord (JD): The market started because we wanted to keep highlighting the produce, meats and seafoods, and handmade local products still available throughout winter months. We also wanted to prove we could make a night-time market work with the right combination of location, atmosphere and vendors. We wanted it to be 100-percent local, 100-percent guaranteed—something that no other farmers’ market in Wilmington provides. Basically, if the vendor does not grow it or produce it themselves, it is not sold at our market.

Also, some of the local growers have been excluded from other markets. We wanted to make sure they had an additional outlet. We do not allow resellers or wholesalers.

e: How do vendors get involved?

JD: No applications or membership fees. [However,] to set up at the market, the fee is $15 each week. We generally have vendors set up at 3 p.m. and the market runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. or 9-ish. To be a part of the market, a potential vendor needs to e-mail a business profile and some pictures of their products. Again we emphasize 100-percent local, 100-guaranteed. If you didn’t grow it or make it yourself, you can’t sell it at our market.

e: Tell us more about your partnership with Waterline Brewing.

JD: It took one text message to [co-owner] Eve Robinson to get it rolling. We met the next week. I laid out the basics about using the parking lot for the vendors and we wanted to have a different local chef do a cooking demonstration each week. The rest is history. With all of us working together, we have turned a very uneventful Tuesday into a weekend night for the brewery, the vendors and all of our guests who come out and enjoy just a little slice of what some of us do with the best of what’s around.

My mantra: “When we all work together, we all win.” Waterline loves having us and the business the market brings. We love working with the most gracious hosts a market could have. When I have some new, crazy idea for the market, we always talk it out and make it happen. Teamwork always works.

e: Why Tuesday evenings?

JD: It just happened to be the night of the week we didn’t have anything else going on. Like I said before, it’s pretty uneventful and it’s always rewarding to make something out of nothing.

e: What’s been some feedback from vendors and shoppers alike?

JD: Everyone loves the cooking demonstrations. Who doesn’t like free food, especially when it comes from one of the best chefs in Wilmington on a weekly basis? For people that work during the week, it’s nice to have a farmers’ market at a time when they are not at their job and not on the weekend. Oh, yeah—and we have beer! Lots and lots of the best brews in Wilmington. Part of the whole reason in choosing Waterline was because we love their beer, and we knew we needed something extra to entice folks to come out to a new market.

e: Which ILM chefs will cook up samples for the market next?

JD: Coming up we have Josh Petty from Cast Iron Kitchen (winner of Best New Restaurant, encore 2017) and Justin Carr from YoSake and Dram + Morsel. Any other chefs else are welcome; they just need to email me.

e: What has been your favorite sample served up so far?

JD: Sautéed collards from Chef Pat Green [of Soulful Twist Food Truck] and raw oysters with 2xIPA mignonette from [Pine Valley Market’s] Christi Ferretti.

e: Are there more plans to expand upon this concept throughout the summer?

JD: There is always something new in the works. Maybe another night market, maybe another day market. Maybe a full-time brick and mortar locals and tourists can shop for the best of what’s around all year long.

Port City Farmers Market
Waterline Brewing • 721 Surry St.
Tuesdays, 4 p.m.-8 p.m.

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