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Farmers markets more than jobs for vendors
Blake and Danise McDonald Johnson
Hinesville Farmers Market vendors Blake and Danise Johnson own Johnson Farm and Horizon Orchard in Jesup. Before turning his attention farming, Blake Johnson was a welder. - photo by Photo by Randy C. Murray

Thursday afternoon saw the beginning of the fifth year for Hinesville’s Farmers Market in Bradwell Park. From May to November, Liberty County residents can find fresh local fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices.
Also available are wood crafts, homemade jams and jellies, local honey, and fresh-baked breads and other sweet delicacies. Shoppers can even buy special barbecue sauces and marinades. Most of all, they’ll find produce — a variety of greens, beans, peas, tomatoes, corn, carrots, potatoes, onions, peppers, squash and cucumbers. There also are melons, cantaloupes, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peanuts, pecans, pears, peaches and apples.
Vendor Larry Surrency said most of his produce is grown locally, or he brings it in from Northern Florida. Surrency shares his vegetable table with Uncanny Cannery’s Faye Martin and her niece, Debbie Pye. Their collection of canned fruits and relishes range from traditional flavors like grape and strawberry to grapefruit-kumquat jelly and pickled okra. Prior to becoming vendors at the Hinesville Farmers Market, Martin said the three of them ran a produce stand wherever they could, including in Jesup and on Wilmington Island.
“You know you have to go to school to learn how to get the ph levels just right for relishes,” Martin said. “I don’t have to do that for jams and jellies, but I’m licensed to anyway. … We used to set up in front of stores around Thanksgiving and Christmas and at the farmers market in Jesup during the early summer. We did it as fundraisers at special events, then we decided to do it as a regular business.”
Martin said she makes more than 40 different kinds of jams and jellies. She said her niece’s corn relish and specialty pickles are very popular.
Former Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Director Vicki Davis said all the vendors approved to sell products at the farmers market have incredible stories.
“You would be amazed to learn their stories,” Davis said, explaining how the market has changed lives. “One retiree was able to quit a night job as a security guard; another just opened a major production factory in Savannah. Two vendors have opened retail businesses. One vendor was at a transitional time in his life and trying to find a new start. (He’s) since married, had a child and become a full-time farmer.”
One of the largest produce tables at the market is manned by Blake and Danise Johnson, owners of Johnson Farm and Horizon Orchard in Jesup. Johnson said he was a welder but got tired of being on the road so much and not getting to see his family.
“My wife’s dad and both my granddaddies were farmers,” Johnson said. “We have about 35 acres, including our you-pick berries and pomegranates.”
He said they’ve been selling the produce they grow for about five years. Shoppers likely will see the Johnsons’ older children helping out when they set up at the farmers market. Later this month, Johnson plans to host Liberty County High School horticulture students at his farm as part of a day field trip.
The Hinesville Farmers Market is open from 4-7 p.m. each Thursday afternoon.

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