Season's Greetings 

Is anything greener than organic produce sold the same day it's picked?

How about bread made by a baker who grinds her own wheat? Or water bottles and soap containers crafted from recycled glass?

All this and more is coming to the Memphis Farmers Market, which opens on Saturday, April 18th, behind Central Station at G.E. Patterson and Front streets. The market is bigger and better than ever with a dozen new vendors adding baked goods (cinnamon rolls from Ono Bakery in Memphis); poultry (Sunflower Farms in Ripley); frozen Cajun entrées (No Time To Cook in Oxford); fresh eggs (Donnell Century Farm in Jackson), and, of course, plenty of produce.

"More of our growers are expanding their production during winter, so we have wonderful produce right from the get-go," says Maryanne Lessley, market coordinator. "We have a grower in Dyersburg who starts tomato plants in a green house with wood-burning stoves, so she has the best little tomatoes in May."

Expect cool-weather crops such as spinach, lettuce, and greens, plus strawberries from Jones Orchard, a new spring crop for the growers in Millington. Overall, about 70 different vendors will rotate through the market during the spring and summer months, serving more than 50,000 shoppers.

The market will operate Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free parking is available adjacent to the train station.

The area's other markets also are opening soon. The Farmers' Market at the Botanic Garden starts Wednesday, April 29th, operating from 2 to 6 p.m., and the market at Agricenter International on Walnut Grove Road opens Friday, May 1st, operating Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On Saturdays, the market opens 30 minutes earlier.

click to enlarge Memphis Farmers Market - JUSTIN FOX BURKS

At the Botanic Garden, vendors have been ringing the phone off the hook, says Jana Gilbertson, director of marketing and public relations. Shoppers also have been checking on the market's start-up date. "People are realizing that buying produce in season is more affordable, and it forces them to be creative with their menu planning," Gilbertson says.

New produce vendors will emphasize the market's focus on food, but hand-made items such as aprons, jewelry, and cards will be sold on artisan days the second Wednesday of every month.

Memphis Farmers Market,

memphisfarmersmarket.com

Farmers' Market at the Garden,

memphisbotanicgarden.org

Agricenter International Farmer's Market, agricenter.org

Mid-towner Paul Gagliano hit on the idea for the Southern Hot Wing Contest & Festival after a friend shared a flight to Tucson with an executive from Tyson Foods.

"He found out that Memphis consumes more chicken wings than anyplace in the country," Gagliano recalls. "For some reason, that fact stuck with me."

Now in its seventh year, the hot-wing festival — one of a handfull nationwide — has raised more than $25,000 for the Ronald McDonald House. About 1,500 people and 30 cooking teams are expected at this year's event set for Saturday, April 18th, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on South Main Street near Ernestine and Hazel's. Admission is $3, and the rain date is Sunday.

Festival-goers appreciate the music, food, and hot-wing competition, Gagliano says. Team names also add to the festival's appeal. "The team names are crazy," he says, laughing. "Wing Ding Along, Great Wings of Fire, Wing Bling, and my favorite, Pluck You."

Similar good times are happening Sunday, April 19th, at the Porter-Leath Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival on Wagner Place between Union and Beale. Activities include food vendors, Cajun and Zydeco music, games (a crawfish bob, toss, and race!), a gumbo-cooking contest, and 500 pounds of free crawfish starting at noon.

Admission to the event is free, but ticket-holders ($50 each) get lots of extras in the festival's well-stocked VIP tent.

Southern Hot Wing Contest & Festival,

southernhotwingfestival.com

Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival,

porter-leath.org

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