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Freshness, personal connections drive farmers market shopping
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Farmers markets offer at least two features that keep customers happy and coming back for more: fresh, local products and real-life social interaction.
Jesse McDonald and his wife, Anne, can be seen almost every Saturday morning during the summer at the Starkville Community Market in downtown Starkville. He said the produce just tastes better than what he can get in traditional grocery stores.
“The fresh produce is the main thing we come for, especially the tomatoes,” McDonald said. “I grew up on a farm, and all we did was grow tomatoes. Now you can’t get me to grow one, but I like to eat them.”
McDonald said he and his wife make the weekly trek a social event.
“We just walk around and talk. You see at least 10 to 15 people you know up there every time you go,” he explained.
The factors that make the McDonalds regular customers have led to a recent sharp increase in the number of farmers markets around the state and nation.
Rebecca Bates, Mississippi State University Extension Service director in Lincoln County, said the farm-to-table movement is responsible for the increase in Mississippi and nationally.
“People want to know where their food comes from and the farmers who grew it,” Bates said. “They want produce, baked goods and other products that are fresh each week.”
Bates has managed the Brookhaven Farmers Market since she helped start it seven years ago.
“It took about three years for the farmers market to start to look like it would be a permanent part of the community,” Bates said. “It was a challenge at first to keep producers involved and the community coming as consumers, but after three years, it seemed to turn the corner. We soon had interest from the community in having a second day.”
Kathy Jacobs is a young professional who helps drive demand for the farmers market in Starkville.
“Especially this year, my garden is a lot smaller than it used to be, so I love to be able to get fresh produce that is locally grown,” Jacobs said. “On a Saturday morning, it’s a great place to go and get your morning started, visit with some people, listen to some good music, and pick up some really good fruits and vegetables.”
Shoppers may pay somewhat higher prices, but they gain other benefits.
“It is a little more expensive, especially if you go with organic producers, but you can’t beat the taste, so it’s worth it,” Jacobs said.
Farmers markets have become a shopping destination for people from widely varying walks of life in communities.
Through the Women, Infants and Children’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is bringing local produce to two groups that often find fresh fruits and vegetables hard to get. These financial assistance programs are designed to provide nutrition benefits to WIC clients or low-income senior citizens in certain areas of Mississippi and to promote the purchase of Mississippi-grown fruits and vegetables from farmers at local farmers markets.