Every Wednesday morning, trucks piled high with fresh produce travel from Lancaster and Fort Mill and Monroe, N.C., into Sun City Carolina Lakes. And before they can finish setting up tables and displaying their vegetables, bread and fresh fruit, customers are lining up to get their pick of the crops.
The weekly produce market at Sun City, a community for people 55 and older, was organized by the communities' Fresh Produce Club, founded by President B.J. Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe is a registered dietician who is retired from the Mecklenburg County (N.C.) Health Department, where she spent much of her career helping improve residents' access to local produce.
After moving to Sun City, she decided to use her experience to bring local produce to her new neighbors.
"When I moved to Sun City Carolina Lakes I found that there were no produce markets close by," Ratcliffe said. "So for selfish or personal reasons, I guess you could say, I thought, 'Man, it would be good to have fresh produce close by us.'"
At the first meeting of the Fresh Produce Club, Ratcliffe attracted 54 residents. She was excited by the turnout and the group immediately began to organize the weekly farmer's market.
The first market was held in April. Sales have increased during the summer, Ratcliffe said. Tomatoes and corn have been the best sellers.
Breadsmith, a bakery based in Fort Mill, also began selling at the market this month. Other vendors include Springs Farms, the Gowan Farm of Lancaster, and Johnny and Sheila Green of Monroe. The market begins at 8 a.m. on Wednesdays. Vendors are also allowed to return for an evening market at 6 p.m. The market is open only to Sun City residents.
The Sun City farmer's market will run until October, Ratcliffe said, provided there is enough produce to continue. She looks forward to pumpkins, apples and other fresh produce this fall.
"That's what I wanted," Ratcliffe said. "Produce that is fresh and local."