Coming out of the cold: From the farm to the mall

By Sandra

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- What do you do when you're craving local specialty foods, but it's too cold outside for a farmers market? You could wait for April -- or you could head over to the mall.After meeting with business owners in the course of her job, including various vendors who frequent Lowcountry farmers markets, Assistant General Manager for Northwoods Mall Kelli Tolley realized that there are no markets held from January to March.She asked the vendors if they would be interested in bringing their wares inside, and many jumped at the offer.Ronnie Taylor, owner of Southern Style Comfort BBQ Sauce, says he plans to set up shop in the center of the mall every chance he gets."For the past five years I've been sitting up at different farmers markets around Charleston," he said. "And when Kelli emailed me, I was very excited about it."Taylor, who offers a barbecue sauce made from honey, said it's a chance for vendors to reach a different crowd than they usually meet at the markets."You get a lot more traffic and a different variety of people," he said. "You got a very good mix here."Local vendor Kimberly Holloway, owner of 78 and Sunny, agrees."Here, people that are just at the mall who may not have known of a farmers market where they live, are coming through," she said. "So in addition to the business, we also get to educate them about eating local and the farmers markets and what to find there."It's not just a different way to shop for mall customers, but people who work in the mall as well."It's smells pretty good," said Raymond Gil as he opened up the Sprint kiosk nearby. "I eat everything in the mall every day for years now. I need something different." The feel of the Farm to Table market is all about specialty foods. One thing you won't see is craft items which could give other stores selling similar items a run for their money."Any vendor I bring in, I have to consider our national retailers first," Tolley explained. "It's a case by case scenario."It's also all about variety. Tolley says each week has seen a different mix of vendors."With meeting new vendors and meeting new business owners each week, I've been introducing new products each weekend," explained Tolley. "It's really exciting for all of the shoppers too because they pop back in and there's something new to try, something new to buy, something new to take home."Speaking of new and different, have you ever tried sweet potato fudge? It sounds odd, but as soon as I popped a sample in my mouth I was pleasantly surprised with how it tasted just like fudge but with a hint of sweet potato pie.The person to blame for this new guilty pleasure is Holloway. She offers not just fudge over at the 78 and Sunny booth, but various canned and jarred jellies, salsas, syrups and pickled snacks. "I think this is great," she said "Because this isn't in our farmers market season so this is the time that we would normally not be working so this is fabulous."It's also the time of year that fresh produce isn't regularly available so don't expect to walk in and see fresh fruit or leafy greens laying out."This time of year, fresh produce is hard to come by," said Tolley. "But I may have a local farmer for the next few weekends, but that's a work in progress."Items that were available ranged from jarred sauces to gourmet bakery mixes. I even got my first taste of a deep fried peanut thanks to Mike's Peanuts.So if you're free on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and have a hankering for some homemade cobbler, boiled peanuts or gumbo, you can find local yummy goodness at the center square in Northwoods Mall in front of J.C. Pennys.The market will be set up every Saturday in March until the outdoor markets open back up in April.A special treat for market goers starting March 9, the Easter Bunny will be set up in front of Dillards.You can find more information on the mall's website by clicking here.