Recently, Maranda Williams, the executive director of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market, and I shared breakfast at a distance. At 27 years old, she’s taken the market (alongside a board of directors and a throng of volunteers, she’s quick to note) and transformed a simple gathering of farmers into a destination. The TR market boasts live music, weekly children’s activities, and its annual Tomato Sandwich Taste-Off in July (with more than 650 tickets sold last summer). For some, a job is just a job. For Maranda, it’s obvious that this is her higher calling. (In the midst of our chat, she read me a Wendell Berry poem.)
What did you want to be when you grew up? I’m that weirdo that never had that dream. I guess when I was a little kid I wanted to be a vet for like five minutes? But nothing really like: This is what I’m going to do, this is where I’m going to be. So when I went to college [at Clemson], I chose communications because it was in the same college as the [undeclared majors]. I thought, I might as well stay here; this major is flexible enough that I can do something with it no matter what.
What do you think makes you particularly qualified for this role? I really like to figure out what gets people amped up, what makes them excited about life. If I had my particular ‘thing’ I wanted to do, I think it would get in the way of what I do at the market. I need to be a blank slate. I’m there to translate, to connect, and support. I don’t want to be the main thing.
Tell us how you got involved with the TR farmers market. I began working at Tandem (a creperie and coffeehouse in Travelers Rest) part-time because my roommate’s sister owned it. After coming out of school just wondering who I am, it was such a soft place to land. So, what started as a transitional place became a rubber-hitting-the-road moment in terms of my communications background. I learned to read people, to ask specific questions like, ‘What are you excited about today?’ or ‘What’s been the best part of your morning?’ On an average Tuesday at work, the (now former) director of the market walked in, and I sort of fan-girled. But the next week, she came in and told me they’d just received a grant to offer SNAP at the market. They needed someone to champion that in the community and head up that program, and she asked if I was interested. Three directors later, here we are. The perfect job for me that I never knew to even dream of!
Why is local food important, maybe now more than ever? I think this pandemic has shown us how fragile our food system is. We need all of it: the corporate level, the local level, the institutions, the local gardens. Many big corporate farms are going under because they don’t have the supply chains. Our importing is going to be majorly shut off, and I think that’s going to be a rude awakening when we realize that the strawberries we’re getting in January come from Chile. We can’t afford to have the hoarding that is happening, and this puts more pressure on our local meat farmers. I hope this helps people get creative with their food choices, maybe have a few nights off from meat, maybe eat a little more plant-based.
List some highlights of the TR market that set it apart from others. This may just be the masochist in me, but I love the limitations the market imposes on us. We are limited to our region, our season, and the people of this specific place. So much of our lives is lived on a global platform, so to have this little snapshot of this place and this particular season is really special. When we try to make it limitless, it makes it so sterile. Beauty is found in the rhythm of the seasons, and we are meant to have seasons.
What’s your favorite summertime produce? You can’t beat tomatoes. A Cherokee Purple is so ugly and just so delicious.
Photograph by Paul Mehaffey.