BRUMLEY GAP, Va. — In a quiet, secluded neighborhood outside of Abingdon, a small group of residents are returning to an old-fashioned way of doing business.
Amidst lush, green, rolling hills and fertile valleys, a two-lane country road leads to the Brumley Gap community, where neighbors are coming together on Saturday evenings to sell, barter and exchange their garden produce and other handcrafted wares.
The first market kicked off two weeks ago from 6 to 7 p.m. at 18479 Brumley Gap Road and will likely continue to meet weekly until the harvest is complete.
The informal farmers market has been dubbed the North Fork Garden Exchange, inviting neighbors to meet and greet each other while selling, trading and sometimes even giving away their goods.
“In these uncertain times, it’s an effort for all of us to become more self-sufficient,” said market organizer David Mitchell, who left the suburban world four years ago to start a homestead in the hills of Southwest Virginia.
The new market is not meant to detract from nearby farmers markets in Abingdon and Lebanon, he said. “Our mission is pretty simple. We want to produce and share quality food with our neighbors. It’s meant to be a local thing — sometimes helping people who cannot drive to the Abingdon or Lebanon markets,” Mitchell said.
“There are a lot of small churches down this road. I can imagine that people used to gather around the church to share their fresh produce.” He hopes the garden exchange will encourage more people in the North Fork region to grow their own gardens and share their harvests.
There is no fee to participate as a vendor, and sellers should bring their own tables for displays.
It’s that dependence on community involvement that prompted Mitchell to experiment with the exchange.
“It’s a collaboration that benefits everyone,” he said, “and we welcome all visitors to our community exchange.
“Maybe you’re growing corn, and I’m growing beans, and we can trade.
“We got some canned venison from one vendor, and we gave him some of our fresh produce. One guy brought quail eggs, and another shared paw paw seedlings last week.
“It’s a practice that we’ve enjoyed since I moved here,” he said. “We’ve always shared our produce with our neighbors. Now, its intent is more formal and involves more people.”
With a following of more than 80 people on Facebook, the exchange features vendors selling a variety of produce and items.
“We had about 10 vendors the first Saturday — that’s not a bad start. We even had some young vendors selling lemonade, and some people brought their knitted items,” Mitchell said.
He said the exchange received good feedback from the small group of vendors.
“My wife and I sold blackberry jam, a blueberry rhubarb pie and some of my handcrafted wooden spatulas.”
Mitchell got the idea for the market after purchasing land near his home on Brumley Gap Road to plant fruit and nut trees.
“The land features a large warehouse that is perfect for the outdoor market. We’re only using a fourth of the building. There is a lot more space left for new vendors.”
He hopes to renovate the warehouse one day soon and use it for community activities, including basketball and volleyball, yoga classes and family movie nights.
“Part of the beauty is getting to meet people you probably wouldn’t meet any other way.”
As a result of the market, Mitchell, a hospitalist at Norton Community Hospital, met a neighbor who’s also in the medical field. “There’s no way I would have met him otherwise.”
The new market is an incentive to help build the community he has found.
After becoming empty nesters, Mitchell and his wife Michiko Takahashi chose Southwest Virginia to live, enjoying every element of the unique landscape.
“We like the climate and the diversity of having mountains and little valleys in between. You can find cute corners that are unique. We have colors in the fall and two creeks running through our land,” Mitchell said.
“There’s nothing else like it.”
The organizer said the market is encouraging safe practices during the pandemic, suggesting that people wear masks and keep a safe distance from other shoppers.
To learn more about the program or to participate as a vendor, visit “North Fork Garden Exchange” on Facebook and send a message.
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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