Farmers who come to sell produce know the groundhogs well. In fact, Petey the groundhog became quite the celebrity last year.
“Last year, we had Petey that we could pet, and he would come right up here,” said Kim Underwood with Underwood Farms. “He was so sweet.”
Sue Goins with Walkers Farm was the first to tame Petey. She would give him various fruits and vegetables and draw him closer to the pavilion bit by bit.
“One day, I just reached up and touched him on his head, and he just kind of looked at me like ‘that’s OK,’” Goins said.
The groundhogs live in the bank next to the creek that runs beside South Cumberland Street. It’s hard to tell how far the burrows go into the bank, but Goins said groundhogs are a lot like humans when it comes to making a home.
“They have a room for sleeping and a community family room, one to use the bathroom; it’s really amazing,” Goins said.
Goins and Underwood estimate there are eight groundhogs living next to the Farmers Market this year. Last year, there were 10. Petey, which was possibly the mother to the babies, did not return this year.
“I actually miss him,” Underwood said. “A lot of people would come to pet him and take pictures and video. We’re hoping one of these will let us pet them sometime.”
Groundhogs are shy around humans, but the local farmers are patient, throwing them everything from spaghetti squash to corn to melons and peaches in hopes the little ones will come closer and get comfortable with human contact.
The bravest of the new bunch is named P.J., or Petey Jr. Underwood puts out a peach for him every morning.
“The little baby, now he is getting to where if I don’t throw a peach over there in the morning, he’ll come about half way and he’s like, ‘where’s my peach, woman?’ so I throw it over there, and he’ll go eat it,” Underwood said.
Many feel the groundhogs are part of the Farmers Market community, and city officials direct mowers to leave their creekside habitat alone.
“When the guys come in and cut all that over there, they’ll go down with the machine and cut all of that, but they won’t cut this over here, because they know the groundhogs live there,” Goins said.
The Farmers Market is open Monday through Saturday throughout the season at 143 S. Maple St. in Lebanon.