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Extension gave a boost to Coast produce market
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When David Courtney upgraded his fresh vegetable produce market from an on-farm stand to a year-round store, he needed some help figuring out how to display his merchandise.
"Folks from the Mississippi State University Extension Service helped with the layout and arrangement of our products to be attractive to the customer," Courtney said. "They showed us where fast-moving items should be located and where the more permanent items should be."
Courtney Farms is a semi-open air, upscale farmer's market opened in Ocean Springs in June 2000. Much of the produce and cut flowers are grown on his 200-acre vegetable farm in George County. The store sells fresh vegetables, bedding plants, fall decorations and Christmas trees. The business has been in operation since the mid-1970s.
"The Extension Service is a service for the producers of the state of Mississippi that we really couldn't afford to hire done," Courtney said. "Anything that a producer needs, help is available at the Extension Service."
Courtney Farms is a family-run operation, with one son managing the store, the other son running the farm and Courtney and his wife helping with the entire operation.
Ken Hood, economist with the Extension Service's Food and Fiber Center, helped the Courtneys plan their Ocean Springs market. He suggested the store use roll-up doors along the sides and front, giving the facility an open-air feel. A-frame racks can be pulled outside for produce display, then secured inside overnight.
"We helped with merchandising and how to arrange things for the customer. We worked on ease-of-flow through the market and how to avoid crowding in certain areas, such as around the cash register when people check out," Hood said.
Hood said information provided by the Food and Fiber Center is available elsewhere at often cost-prohibitive fees for small businesses. However, because the Extension Service is tax-payer supported, there was no fee to Courtney.
"The main function we perform at the Food and Fiber Center is to try to enhance a business' agricultural product before it goes to the consumer," Hood said. "We work with the producers after production to try to help them get more money for their product. Sometimes packaging increases the value, and other times it is additional processing that brings more value to the commodity being offered."
In addition to personal consultation on agribusiness issues, the Food and Fiber Center presents about four Food as a Business workshops across the state each year. These one-day seminars help participants understand what it takes to operate a non-restaurant food business.
For more information on the Food and Fiber Center at MSU or any of its programs or services, contact Ken Hood at (662) 325-2160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.