Farmers’ market opens new door for Greenbrier gardener

Pastor and gardener Lonzo Ruff still walks behind the motor plow his father and grandfather used before him. | Photos: Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – At the age of five, he started gardening under his father’s watchful eye. By eight, he was plowing the garden. Today, at 76, Rev. Lonzo Ruff, of Greenbrier, has reached a pinnacle in his gardening life – he’s one of the top-selling vendors at the Saturday morning Fairfield Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market in downtown Winnsboro.

Not only does the market provide Ruff with an unexpected supplemental income late in his life, but it provides him the satisfaction of contributing in a significant way to the health and wellbeing of families in the community by offering fresh, inexpensive, healthy garden vegetables and fruits for their tables. As a retired pastor, he said that means a lot to him.

“Vegetables are good for you,” Ruff said. “If you eat healthy food, you’re probably going to be healthy.”

Assessing himself as fairly fit for his age – “I’m a little stiff in the mornings, but otherwise I’m fine” – Ruff said he grew up eating fruits and vegetables from his family’s garden and trees and that’s been a positive influence throughout his life.

Ruff shows off one of his collards at the Farmer’s Market.

“Like my father before me, I grow almost all my own food,” he said. “A friend brought me a coon last winter, but I mostly eat produce out of my garden. God provided us with the Garden of Eden. I feel God’s presence when I’m in the garden, and I talk to Him a lot when I’m out there working,” he said.

Retired from his career as a brick mason and from forty years of pastoring several churches in Fairfield including Bethel and Ebenezer, Ruff found new purpose for his gardening passion when the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce opened a small farmer’s market in the lot next to the NAPA store about five years ago. Two years ago, that market grew exponentially when the county, under the direction of County Administrator Jason Taylor, repurposed the former livery stable/bowling alley building behind the clock on East Washington Street for an upscale market building where farmers, gardeners and crafters now bring their products for sale on Saturday mornings. The popular venue draws a full house of vendors and shoppers to the downtown area most Saturday mornings, between 9 a.m. – noon.

At the market, shoppers find not only fruit and vegetable vendors but artisans and other specialty vendors including those selling micro-greens, breads, herbs, spices, crafts, desserts and more. There is no charge for vendors to set up shop inside or outside the building.

“Before we had the farmers’ market, I ended up giving away all the produce I couldn’t eat or preserve,” Ruff said. “After my wife, Doris, passed in 2006, it was just me, and I had a lot more food growing than I could eat. I use a pressure cooker to preserve some of it for me and my sisters to have in the winter, but there’s still a lot left.”

Now he sells that surplus at the farmers’ market. But because his preserved produce is not prepared in an approved DHEC kitchen, he can’t yet sell his canned goods at the market.

“Mr. Taylor was planning to get us a DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control) kitchen at the market so we could be approved to sell jellies and preserves,” he said. With Taylor leaving the county to become Town Manager for Winnsboro, the current county leaders have cut back on funding for the market, leaving the kitchen and other plans for the market on hold.

While his garden produce is not certified organic, Ruff said almost everything he grows is free of chemicals and pesticides. He said his customers like that.

“I just sprinkle a little white flour on the plants and that’s about all it takes to keep off the pests,” he said.

Other gardening tricks he uses include planting by the phases of the moon, never sprinkling his garden, but using a soaker hose between rains and using an ancient motorized garden plow with white wall tires that he keeps in perfect running condition.

“That was my father’s plow and I believe it was his father’s before him,” Ruff said, not clear of the machine’s origin. “It works great and is easy to use. I’ve used it since I was young and it’s what I keep my garden with now.”

The demand for Ruff’s produce at the market has become so great that he maintains an additional garden on a friend’s property on Greenbrier-Mossy Dale Road where he grows cabbages, peas, beans, onions and maintains a muscadine grape arbor.

He has more plans to expand his market offerings to include fruits from trees in his front yard – pears, pomegranates and plums as well as blackberries.

Market manager Brad Hoffman said Ruff is one of the top draws at the Saturday market.

“A lot of my regular customers can’t wait for the market to open Saturdays,” Ruff said, “I usually sell out by noon or before. The market is something I look forward to every week,” he said. And he goes to some trouble to offer only the best.

“I always wait to pick my vegetables just before I take them to market. That way, they’re really fresh. Vegetables are their best when they’re fresh-picked,” he said. “You don’t get that at the grocery store.”

This is the first in a series of six stories about the vendors who sell their products at the Farmer’s and Artisan’s Market on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. For questions about selling or shopping at the market building, contact Valerie Clowney at 803-627-0489.


  1. Pelham Lyles says

    Some years ago, a previous county administration decided to tear down the old building. Preservationist Mike Bedenbaugh and I climbed through the upper part of the building to identify the early 1900s portions of the old livery stable. Somehow, we were able to persuade the county to hold off with demolition. When Jason Taylor came to town as the county administrator, he recognized the importance of saving and repurposing the building for the community’s use. Sometimes I see the current trend to tear down or discontinue such projects as being related to a certain recent president’s efforts to destroy anything of value attributed to his predecessor.

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