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Vista Farmers Market

Gwen Fowler Gwen Fowler

A new farmer's market in Columbia's Vista lets shoppers go online to choose the produce they'd like and then pick up their orders at the market.

Vista Marketplace sets up under the canopy in front of the Blue Marlin restaurant each Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those who've placed their orders online can pick them up there, but others are welcome to shop for their produce and other products, including amazing chocolate chip cookies on the day I visited.

Liz McCullar, organizer of the Marketplace, said the online market can save farmers the time of spending most of a day sitting in a booth.

"I was just looking for a way to help the farmers," she said. "I felt like the small farmer was being underserved."

The online customers get a quick way to shop for local produce as well as other South Carolina products, such as gourmet foods, meats, cheeses, baked goods, soap and other body care products, crafts and cleaning supplies.

Shoppers can also sign up to receive a full or half share of fresh in-season produce from South Carolina farmers. Those who sign up to receive regular shares -- $15 for a half share and $25 for a full.

Another purpose of the market is to form between Vista restaurant owners and chefs and the vendors.

McCullar is among the vendors who sell products on the site and at the market. Her company, Gifts to Go, makes gourmet mixes, dips and spreads. She also makes tomato pies and chicken pot pies. The day I was there, she also had her Glorious Morning muffins for sale. Not only are they delicious, but they're full of things that are really good for you: bran, whole wheat, cranberries, raisins, apricots, dates and coconut.

Her presence allows farmers and vendors to leave their products for sale and not have to stay throughout the day. But farmers and vendors are there when possible to meet customers.

I met Katherine Jones of Indigo Chocolate Co., who makes her own heavenly chocolate. I don't mean she cooks with chocolate; she makes it herself, using fair trade organic cocoa beans from Peru. The process takes time. First, she roasts the beans. Then she uses a type of grinder called a melanger and grinds them up to 48 hours.

She said she had met a man who was making chocolate and became determined to learn to make her own.

Her company began soon after she sent an email to friends about buying her chocolate chip cookies for Christmas gifts. She made thousands that year, and at one period didn't sleep for 36 hours.

For her incredible sea salt chocolate chunk cookies, she chooses only quality ingredients, including butter from Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, Adluh flour and free-range eggs.

She also makes seven types of chocolate bars, including an 85 percent dark chocolate bar with fruit and nuts -- cranberries, toasted macadamia nuts, raisins, golden raisins, cashews, peanuts and almonds.

Jones was sharing samples of her chocolate bars and cookies at the Vista Marketplace a few weeks ago, and even though the high temperatures were melting the chocolate a little, passers-by were happy to get a scrumptious taste.

The Blue Marlin restaurant has been using her chocolate chip cookies for an ice cream cookie sandwich dessert.

Vista Marketplace isn't South Carolina's only market that lets customers order online. Clemson Locally GrownClemson Area Food Exchange, and Upstate Locally Grown also have similar programs.

McCullar is pleased with the market's progress so far.

"It's a perfect location and we hope it does grow," she said. "We want to be here all year."

Gwen Fowler
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