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Farmers' markets reap many rewards
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Farmers' markets are finding their niche in community economies across the state as producers and customers develop mutually beneficial relationships.
"Farmers' markets have a place in communities who have an appreciation for fresh produce," said David Nagel, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Prices are similar to grocery stores, but the produce is fresher. Most of the produce is grown within a 25-mile radius of the market. Grocery produce may be from as far as 2,000 miles away."
Nagel said the appeal for Mississippi producers is the ability to supplement their income on a small area of land while making those close community ties that make Mississippi such a friendly state.
In the last couple of years, farmers' markets have developed in Lafayette, Warren, Adams and DeSoto counties.
Diane Hill, executive director of the Southaven Chamber of Commerce, said the 2001 growing season was a successful year for that city's new farmers' market. In 2000, the market was set up in a temporary location in a parking lot, but this year it benefitted from a more permanent, open-air building.
"Obviously, people love the fresh produce, but even more than that, it gave people a sense of community," Hill said. "That kind of shopping atmosphere that encourages visiting appealed to people. The market also brought people into the community, both vendors and shoppers."
Joy Anderson, Extension horticulture agent in DeSoto County, said the Southaven Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in the success of this market. Booth rental, promotion and supervision were among the Chamber's efforts.
"Extension can provide advice on crop and business issues; we can encourage people to grow produce for the farmers' market; but the community needed someone like the Chamber of Commerce to make it happen," Anderson said.
Reba Bland, Lafayette County Extension home economist, said the 2001 market was the first in a couple of decades in Oxford. A supervisory board oversaw the market in general and developed guidelines to ensure that most of the produce was locally grown. In addition to produce, garden and house plants were sold in their parking lot location.
"The farmers' market was successful not just because growers made money, but because of the way it brought the community together," Bland said. "Next year should be even better as we add a more permanent, open-air shed to protect us from the elements."