Monday, February 15, 2010

Jacksonville Farmers Market Opportunities

INSHORT: Please concact Jacksonville City Council Members and ask that the Jacksonville Farmers Market be easy for farmers to use and that it keeps its Arkansas Only ordinance.

That’s how I feel composing this post. Peculiar because I find myself advocating that the new Farmers Market in my home town of Jacksonville be easy for farmers to use. Why I would have to do that just seems peculiar to me, I would hope that when the city of Jacksonville decided to build a Farmers Market their goal would be to build a place that is conducive for famers and the local citizens to use. This would provide a venue that would help distribute fresh market produce, something that Jacksonville could really use. This would seem to demonstrate a proactive approach to the cities health and well being.
One would hope anyway, well it seems that the city is hedging their bet to the determent of the very market the city is building. After several emails and phone calls to the administrative folks detailing the issues that I see with the new market, it seems they have fallen on deaf ears. Here is the content of the email I sent after I talked to the city engineer about the proposed work flow they envisioned for the market:

From: Kelly Carney []
Sent: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 2:48 PM
To: 'Jim Durham, Director of Administration'
Cc: 'Jay Whisker, City Engineer'; 'Gary Fletcher, Mayor'; 'Jody Hardin'
Subject: RE: Jacksonville Farmers Market

Thanks for putting me in contact with Jay. He was able to verity the proposed process for Farmers to use when setting up at the Jacksonville Farmers Market.
While I would not begin to understand the procurement process for local municipalities with regards to construction projects, I can advise you that building a market that is easy for Farmers to setup and use should warrant consideration of a design review. In my opinion there is 1 critical and 1 major design flaw with the proposed market.
The one CRITICAL flaw that could keep farmers from this market is the requirement that the sales booth is separated from the farmer’s climate controlled storage facility (van or truck). This creates burdens on the farmer to either attempt to unload his produce in the booth area or have to leave their booth to replenish their tables. Either of these options is not ideal. Farmers who use refrigerated vans or trucks would not risk the potential spoilage by unloading and would have to make many trips to their vehicles there by leaving their sales area unattended. The setup time for coordinating several farmers loading/unloading could create bottlenecks as the market grew in popularity. I am no designer but the resolution of this may be as simple as removing the walls from the current design so farmers could back their vehicles up to the sides and setup their booths accordingly.

The one MAJOR flaw that could keep larger farmers away is that there is not room for larger refrigerated trucks to unload with a 10ft roof. I am not talking about 18 wheelers, but the smaller (9-10ft tall types used by many farmers and local merchants). This flaw could be mitigated if the unload requirement was not in place because the larger trucks could just back to the edge of the roof and work from there.

I have visited only 2 covered farmers markets. Memphis and Little Rock’s markets support farmers utilizing their vehicles for storage as part of their booth.

End of email

The cities solution to this was to say (in the Arkansas Democrat attached article) that the farmers could setup in the parking lot of the market. As a taxpayer in Jacksonville, I find this to be absurd. Hey here’s an idea, lets build a farmers market pavilion and ask the farmers to setup in the parking lot of it.

Now for the Ironic part of this post. The city in what seems to be its desire to sell produce at the market at any cost, is considering removing the current ordinance that requires farmers to only sell Arkansas grown or produced products. The mayor in the attached Leader and Arkansas Democrat Gazette article seems to claim that you can’t have variety and locally grown food at the same time. Well I don’t know if the mayor has been to a farmers market recently, but I guarantee that a successful Arkansas Farmers Only market has more variety that any Wal-Mart Supercenter or Kroger has. At the Argenta Farmers market in NLR, you can find dozens of varieties of tomatoes, green beans, squash, greens, melons and more. The fact is local farmers grow not just the plain vanilla easy to sell produce staples, but much much more. Does the local grocery store have shitake mushrooms or fresh basil or cilantro? Not the last time I checked. When you drill down on the data, you find that it’s the farmers markets that have the variety, not peddlers selling out of state products. Additionally it’s an educational platform that can be used for local schools to teach where food comes from, why certain foods are abundant during certain times of the years and the importance of farmers in the local economy. Why do I have to advocate locally grown to a city who has invested in consultants who tell them of the revenue bleed that happens within its city limits? Do they think that produce peddlers selling out of state produce keep their money local? The oldest manufacturing job that exists is that of a farmer. The money I spend growing my crops is re-circulated many times in Jacksonville. Sam Proffit who helps part time at my farm, pays rent in Jacksonville and buys from local merchants. I am no economist, but it seems pretty simple to me that the more money that is re-circulated in a small town the better the economy for that town becomes. Hello Jacksonville? Are you getting any of this?
The entire country is in the midst of a local foods title wave and we have the opportunity to embrace this. Let’s not miss this opportunity!
Jacksonville should have a farmers market that is easy to use and fair to the farmers. If they do this, while it probably won’t happen overnight, farmers will show up to sell, more new farmers will want to be a part of it and the variety that will be found there will be second to none.

Kristin Griggs who is in charge of the market has asked for feedback about the new market. If you share my perspective on this, please call or email her at 501-982-4171 or . As of last Friday she said she received 3 emails about this new market, please help in adding a few digits to that number.

Check out these links for more farmers market information:
Wikipedia - Check out the picture of the Durham NC Market -:'_market

USDA Farmers Market Fact Sheet:

USDA Farmers Market Website:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Conferences, Tomatoes and Farm Heroes

This last week has been one of the coolest ever. I attended my first farm conference, the Missouri Organic Association annual meeting in Columbia. The MOA is an association of farmers, chefs, gardeners, health professionals and consumers who advocate organic food. I met many experienced organic farmers and look forward to getting to know all of them better. There were workshops on Organic advocacy, high tunnel production, pest and soil management as well as marketing using social networks. I picked up some Amish made organic tea that I am going to dilute and feed my seedlings with. They had planned to hold a “silent” auction for a fund raiser when one of the Amish members volunteered to actually call the auction. The Amish are well known for their farming skills and their produce auctions. When the auctioneer pulled out a 2.5 gallon of Hummus Tea, I could not help but bid on it. One can’t help but wonder how many pounds of tomatoes this fine gentleman has sold. The
MOA members are clearly part of the “early adopters” in organic farming and were happy to share their insights with this rookie.
I would be remiss if I did not offer my thanks to Jody Hardin for inviting me to join him at this conference.

This leads me to the Farm Heroes section of this post. The MOA members referred to many of their members as “farm heroes” for their contribution in helping fellow farmers. Making it to my second year as a farmer would not have been possible with out the help of one of my farm heroes. Jody Hardin with the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market has committed his life advocating for the small farmer. He was a speaker at the MOA conference, is obviously very well respected by his peers and his vision for Arkansas small farmers helped created the states premier farmers market in Argenta. Jody Harding has probably forgotten more about farming than I ever hope to learn.
The Jacksonville Military Museum hosts a War Stories Lecture Series and recently featured Lt. Col. Keith Moore with the Arkansas Army National Guard. Lt. Col. Moore is leading the Arkansas Agricultural Deployment Team to Afghanistan.
He detailed their plans to help rebuild local agriculture in a country that has lost much of its knowledge base to over 30 years of war. I have to admit that I was very skeptical so I planned on attending this event to learn more details. History has not been kind to foreign armies in that country. Lt. Col Moore was the first to say that we are not going to teach farmers who have been farming since the beginning of time how to farm. Their plans are to help rebuild irrigation infrastructure, assist with building markets and do what it takes to rebuild local agriculture as a means for economic development. Lt. Col Moore and his team of volunteer guardsmen many of whom are farmers are doing this under the most challenging conditions imaginable with little to no resources. This will keep our local agricultural challenges in perspective.

Finally I am proud to announce that our seed germination is in full swing. Our spring tomato crop has been transplanted from their germination flats to 2x2’s, and our spring spinach has been transplanted into the ground in Wilma. We have started our cucumber, pepper, lettuce and melon seeds and look forward to filling our ebb/flow growing tables with these youngsters. I have some very nice Amish tea I am sure they are gonna love.