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Springtime at the Farmers Market

By Daniel Silliman and Joel Hall

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Hip-deep in green and growing shrubbery, Debbie Woods held her thumb over the end of the hose.

She was squirting water at the base of a potted bush, soaking the dirt and the roots and enjoying the Friday afternoon sunshine. She had the snaking hose looped through her left hand and she held the nozzle tight with her right hand, and she said she was looking forward to April.

Woods has been growing and selling flowers seasonally for about 10 years, out at the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park. She's been growing and selling produce all her life, she said, but now she's been focusing on flowers, doing business under the name, "Debbie's Flowers."

Woods' potted flowers, shrubs and ferns are all dark green, a few days after the official start of spring, but the woman says she won't seriously start selling for a little while yet.

"Usually," Woods said, "I don't really start until the first week of April. We have about two more weeks until it's really selling. Once that last little cold snap gets through, the people start coming."

Nearby, a yellow, trumpet-shaped hibiscus bloomed.

Across the farmers market, Jose Chavez was unloading a truck of smooth-skinned oranges. With the first flush ripening in March, the oranges were packed in a brown box and Chavez, his sleeves rolled up, carried them out to the edge of a concrete stall.

The farmers market is 49-years-old, and as the largest farmers market in the state, it continues to serve as a meeting place for growers and buyers.

During the day, individuals cruise through the concrete stalls, looking at the wide variety of produce put out for sale. In the early mornings, wholesale buyers barter for mass quantities to supply grocery stores, restaurants, commercial and industrial kitchens.

Market statistics show more than 120 tractor trailer loads of produce move through the market every day, where annual sales are nearing $500 million.

Local cooks and connoisseurs really come out when the produce is at its peak, but thousands of buyers come to the market on a daily basis, all year long.

Vegetable vendor, Irving Castellanos, may know the reason for the market's success. Standing behind a bank of boxes of blood-red tomatoes, he picked up an extra fat one, looked at it and said, "business is good. Lots of people buying."