Gardening season is well underway, as you can tell by the pictures below. From what I have gathered from several training’s I have been to, and talking with growers from other counties, our growers are ahead of the game.
Our Farmers market will be opening this Saturday for the season, and for opening day, we have way more vendors signed up than anyone else.
Williamson is a town of 3,000—and Mingo County has 26,000. WE are an extremely poor county with poor health disparities. Town is usually dead on the weekends, and so the Farmers Market has served as a focal point for community activity and engagement on the weekend.
Over the last couple of years we have seen our market grow from 75 customers every Saturday, to 100, to 200 to about 400 customers every Saturday last year.
And our market has been one of our major successes of our local food system, and so I wanted to share some of the secrets behind our successes
- Market events. We try to have as many events as possible. We host musicians regularly, (some paid a small stipend, some volunteer), have kids events such as food fear factor, corn hole and ladder ball tournaments, cooking demonstrations
- Partnering with a health clinic. My staff time is covered the Williamson Health and Wellness Center (a federally qualified health clinic) and so a portion of my time is dedicated to coordinating the market.Additionally, the FQHC is our fiscal sponsor, so we are able to apply for grant funding for the market. The clinic also distributes RX Vouchers to patients. Patients can buy fresh produce at the market, benefitting patients and farmers market vendors.
- Season extension and cold crops. While this is something our growers have struggled with over the last couple of years, we are finally getting to a good spot. While other markets are still planning for the season, we opened this weekend with a variety of greens and cold crops such as kohlrabi and radishes, green onions and more. We also diversified the market by selling our organic fertilizer, plants, seeds, baked goods, crafts and more.
- Variety – in the beginning of the year and end of the year we allow our vendors to buy some of their product wholesale and resell, or buy from other farmers. This keeps customers coming back and interested in our market. The more produce there is, the better vendors do. Customers want to be able to come to the market and buy everything they need in one stop.
- We conduct a TON of public outreach. Leading up to the market and even during the market our outreach is extremely important. We reach out to newspapers, radios and send out flyers. But most important is our social media
- We try to offer as many perks at our market as possible. In the vendor fees we include tables, canopies/carport space, bathroom facilities and a number of different voucher incentive programs that we offer.