The debut of the Farmers Market Hilton Head Island

For years, Hilton Head Island has lacked a bona fide outdoor farmers market. Rebecca Smith and Pamela Ovens have helped change all that.

Rebecca Smith, left, and Pamela OvensFor a place so reverent of natural beauty that even the stop signs used to blend in with the landscape, the absence of a bona fide outdoor farmers market on Hilton Head Island seemed downright ludicrous to islander Rebecca Smith.

“Everybody’s going green, and Hilton Head’s getting lost in the dust. We need to jazz it up,” says Smith, who is doing her part by spearheading the new Farmers Market Hilton Head Island at Honey Horn, set to open April 1.

“Hilton Head should have had this market years ago,” says Smith, who has been collaborating for a year with fellow islander Pamela Ovens, the Town of Hilton Head, local farmers, Coastal Discovery Museum president Michael Marks and other area markets to bring her idea to one of the island’s most picturesque settings. Ovens will serve as co-manager of the market along with Gail Lippard Horvath.

“(Honey Horn) is so natural, and it’s historic,” Smith says. “It’s quiet, green, pretty and calm, like a farmers market should be.”

Smith is expecting the market to include locally grown produce and herbs, fresh meat and seafood, homemade breads and pastries, and even honey from — where else — Honey Horn. Master gardeners will lead seminars related to gardening, and local chefs will teach demonstrations on cooking with in-season fruits and vegetables.

The market is meant to be educational, neighborly and supportive of those in the community who make their living o the land and sea.

“The farmers are really embracing it,” says Smith, who works at the Parris Island Museum but once owned a string of garden stores in Greenville. “Some are coming in from outside of Charleston. And all of them are saying ‘It’s so long overdue.’ ”

Urbie West, a fifth-generation farmer who owns Rest Park Farm in Ehrhardt, believes the market will ride the swelling waves of interest in locally grown and organic produce. It’s a trend that brought West back in business after his family went out of farming for many years.

“I see a movement of people trying to get locally grown stuff,” says West, a vendor at the Hilton Head farmers market who operates a produce stand in Beaufort and a local CSA. “People want to know where their vegetables are coming from.”

Kim Viljac, manager of the Bluffton Farmer’s Market, says that’s why her market, and others like it, have been so well received.

“You can actually buy something for an entire salad there,” Viljac says. “You can talk to the person who picked it out of their garden or farm that morning, packaged it and brought it in.” The Bluffton Farmers Market has become like a miniature street festival every Thursday in the spring and summer. The market usually features about 40 vendors, prepared food, live music and children’s entertainment.

Viljac welcomes the addition of the Hilton Head farmers market to the area’s support of local farmers.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to help them get up and running,” she said.

When: 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. every Friday from April 1 to Oct. 28
Where: Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn

Local restaurants draw straight from the farm

Local chefs know that the fresher the produce, the better the taste. And nothing’s fresher than produce picked close to home.

Owners of the Old Oyster Factory, Red Fish and Alexander’s began tending their own garden two years ago. Dubbed Bear’s Island Farm, the modest space near Colleton River Plantation produces fresh herbs, greens, peppers and tons of tomatoes. “Last year we had 600 tomato plants,” said Lily Ouimette, who oversees the garden.

In winter, the garden seeds tomato plants in a small greenhouse on the property; this year they’re growing all heirloom tomato plants, Ouimette said.

At Cahill’s Market and Chicken Kitchen in Bluffton, the order is reversed. Cahill’s has long been selling the fresh produce and herbs it grows on its 30-acre property, but decided to start using them to cook fresh food on-site as well.

“We were tired of seeing our produce going to the compost pile,” said Robbie Cahill. “You get so much, it’s hard to sell it all.” Now their locally grown and prepared food endeavor rivals the market side of the business. The only thing suffering is the compost pile.

Robyn Passante