Written by: Jeffie Hardin

The town of Mount Holly in Gaston County has a treasure any community would love to have. Their Farmers Market site has been transformed into a permanent structure thanks to numerous grants and donations, as well as the generosity and support of the site’s owners. A beautiful timber frame with lots of room to walk around and shop and greet neighbors; a stage for live music and chef demonstrations using Market produce and meats; and an area dedicated to children’s programming called Power of Produce (POP), in which young people learn about food and where it comes from.

But ask Leigh Brinkley, Board Chair of this market, what she considers the greatest treasure and she would say without hesitation that it is the volunteer group. “These 30+ citizens are the unsung heroes and linchpin to the Market’s success.”

Though she resists being singled out, it has to be noted that Leigh is a key player in the Market as well. After living away from from her native Mount Holly for years, Leigh and her husband bought and renovated her grandparents’ home in 2004. Upon her return, she realized the was an opportunity to enrich and enliven her hometown – especially focusing on food which is so very vital to the health and well-being of community.

The Market which began in 2006 with just 7 vendors, now boasts 20+ booths of produce, meat, plants, flowers, homemade breads and cheeses, and even brooms. But the realization of a permanent Farmers Market structure began with a single grant of $10,000 received two years ago. After that, the Market applied for more grants and basically “hop-scotched” matching grants one after another. There wasn’t one huge donor, but many smaller funds which were stitched together to form a tapestry of donations. Towards the end of the campaign, the Mount Holly Tourist Destination recognized the Market as a tourist destination and gave a matching grant which pushed the funding over the top.

Although the process wasn’t lightning fast, the way the Market’s funding came about is inspiring and can be a model for other smaller towns. Market managers don’t have to pursue impossibly large grants, but can focus their efforts on smaller, more attainable ones and then build upon each success.

This method encouraged more community involvement and commitment. Future on-site plans are being made for a Children’s Garden where little hands can get dirty and discover the joy of growing food. Other future plans include a demonstration garden hosted by Master Gardeners and a Bee City site with bee hives for Mason Bees and other pollinators.

The centerpiece will be a Veteran’s Healing Garden and topiary project, taking its inspiration from Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden in Bishopsville, SC. Look up www.pearfryar.com  to see the amazing and creative work happening in SC. Mount Holly is anticipating having similar works of natural art with veterans’ participation.

All of these initiatives are the focus of various groups which have joined together to make a stronger community. The Mount Holly Community Development Foundation, Mount Holly Community Garden, Gaston County Health Department, Power of Produce kids program, ARTS Mount Holly, and the Mount Holly Historical Society have all participated. Once again, the community volunteers have joined together to form a destination spot they can all be proud of.

The Market will be open Saturday mornings through October. The Market accepts SNAP and EBT (credit & debit cards) which makes shopping so easy. They are working to be able to provide double up SNAP bucks. Check out their website, www.homegrownmountholly.com to learn about upcoming events and guests as well as other Mount Holly happenings. A new favorite is the annual Lantern Parade occurring Oct. 26.

Come on down to discover the joys of the small town of Mount Holly – both the market and their community. It’s well worth the trip.