The bounty of the season jumps right out at you at Clemmons Country Store.
In summer, it’s the unmistakable warm, concentrated smell of fresh tomatoes; in the fall, it will be baskets of apples from the North Carolina mountains, and then pumpkins, and Christmas trees from Sparta toward the end of the year. Spring starts with hanging plants and flowers. And you’ll find local honey, preserves, farm-fresh eggs, pies, and cakes on the shelves all year round. The market, which is owned and run by Sherrie Billings with help from her husband, Tim, is one part local produce stand, one part local bake shop, and one part local craft boutique.
“Local” is the key word here.
“When it comes to my food, produce, and perishables — and all my preserves — it’s all local, probably from within a 50-mile radius,” says Sherrie Billings. “I just always had a passion for local plants and produce.”
Billings has been in business for 20 years, and is driven by her love for products connected to the regional soil. This was all before the buy-local movement bloomed and before the word “locavore” had entered anyone’s vocabulary.
“Some of our small tomato farmers that used to have 50 plants now have 400, and now sell all over North Carolina,” Billings says.
Her obsession coincided with a national renaissance in local pride. Farm-to-table emerged as a snappy concept to redirect consumers to the wealth of tasty and ultra-fresh food growing or being made in their regions. Why have bushels of produce jetted from Peru, New Zealand, or California when we can get them, in season, from up the road?
Other factors played into the trend, too. For instance, it’s now widely believed that local honey, aside from tasting delicious, can often help alleviate some of the suffering of those sensitive to allergens of local pollens.
The rising tide of interest in local products has also lifted many of the small businesses that Billings works with and whose products she stocks. She’s seen Camino Bakery expand from a truck operation to a mini empire. The same is true of A Full Measure Catering in Advance, Mrs. Pumpkins, and Lisa’s Bakery.
“We’ve seen each other evolve, and I suspect it’s because people are really coming back and saying, ‘Let’s buy local and let’s truly know who we’re buying from.’ That’s been neat to see,” Billings says. And she takes the same approach, spending a chunk of each year driving around and meeting the farmers and producers of the products she sells in the store. “Eighty percent of the products I sell are local-based products. We really try to be conscious of who we buy from. I go to the farms to visit, I go to the caterers’ kitchens to visit, and I want to see where everything comes from.”
The Clemmons Country Store lives up to the country part of its name, too, with downhome favorites like chow chow, bread-and-butter pickles, pickled okra, pickled green tomatoes, cherry preserves, peach preserves, hot sauces, elderberry extract, candies, steak sauce, jams, and more.
It’s all part of the charm that sways consumers to shop local instead of at big-box stores.
“I like to be here with the customers,” Billings says. “I know their names. I know who their kids are; I know when they’re graduating. I like that part.”
Want to go?
Clemmons Country Store
Address: 2690 Lewisville-Clemmons Road in Clemmons.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sun, noon–4 p.m.
Misc.: Guests can find everything from locally made jewelry to farm-fresh eggs.