At least two dozen people are shopping for fresh vegetables on a beautiful sunny Saturday, May 2, as I walk about. The small parking lot is packed with cars, and more are lined up on Highway 80 waiting to pull in. Most shoppers are wearing protective COVID-19 masks and carefully selecting from generous mountains of fresh produce on freestanding displays.
This is Doris Berry Farmers Market, a local whole food—and woman-owned—institution in the greater Jackson area that has been active for about seven decades. Doris Berry opened her market in the 1950s and moved the operation to Pearl in 2017. She posted the move on Facebook: "It is with a heavy heart that after 68 years I regretfully announce that I have closed ... the old farmers market on Woodrow Wilson Boulevard. I will miss the many friends that I have had the great pleasure of serving for so many years. Many of you are second, third, and fourth generation customers. I have watched you grow up, have children and grandchildren of your own ... (but) it is time to turn the page. I am not retiring; I'm just making a change."
Now in Pearl, the market continues to feature what it's always been known for: fresh fruits and vegetables and frozen veggies ready to take home and cook or stash in the freezer. Fifteen farm families from nearby Morton, Magee, Bassfield and Crystal Springs produce the bounty—just some of the farmers that form the backbone of central Mississippi's fresh food supply.
The market also sells Amish-made products (pepper jelly, cane syrup, butter, cheese, cottage hams and summer sausage), Pennington Farms Mississippi Wildflower Honey, vegetable soup stock, chow chow, pickles, canned tomatoes, homemade jams and jellies, fresh brown eggs, and a variety of potted plants and flowers.
Berry passed away at age 89 in 2018, but Marcie Bullock, Berry's niece, still works at the market. She attributes the stand's enormous success during the pandemic to the fact that with people at home, more and more people now have time to cook.
"I'd guess our business has doubled," Bullock says. "More people are cooking now, and they want fresh and local. They don't necessarily want to go to the grocery store, and they enjoy the people and the open-air market here."
Doris Berry's son John and daughter-in-law Brenda are at the market most days, relaxing in rocking chairs and adding to the friendly atmosphere. "It's all about customer service," John says.
Before retiring, John was a farmer, so the family knows supporting local farmers is important.
"We do it for the people," Brenda Bullock explains. "Like Doris, we know that the customers are more than customers. We know their families. We just come here and spend all day talking to friends."
Doris Berry Farmers Market (3615 Highway 80 E., Pearl) is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, find the market on Facebook. Michele D. Baker is a travel writer and photographer. For more on her work, visit MicheleDBaker.com.