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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Farmer's Market seed is planted -- will in grow in Fulton County?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

While she was out of town when it ran, Areawide Media Editor Niki De Soto wrote an editorial page column for our Feb. 29 papers -- and I was a little worried.

The County Extension Service had scheduled a Feb. 22 meeting to see if residents were interested in helping start a Fulton County Farmer's Market. Niki's column offered her support for the farmer's market idea and, being an optimist, she even promised to be one of the first customers when the market began operation.

My fear was, what if they held a farmer's market meeting and no one came? With little or no interest, the paper would have a huge hole on the editorial page, because Niki's column would be outdated and, since she was out of the country as well as the county, she wouldn't be able to write something else.

It turned out my fears were unfounded. About 35 people showed up for the meeting, great support was expressed for a farmer's market, and a second meeting was scheduled to start actually working on the who-what-when and wheres.

Lots of people like to go to farmer's markets to buy fruits and vegetables and visit with vendors and fellow shoppers. But a question remained -- would there be people willing to step up and do the dirty work of getting a market off the ground?

From covering a wide variety of events and meetings around town, it appeared to me Salem and Fulton County are a lot like my son's PTA, when he was in elementary school.

I went to a meeting one time, to volunteer to help put on the school's fall festival, and walked out PTA President. I was a new face in a small group of very familiar faces -- the overworked faces of the few with the time or desire to help out at the school.

Because Fulton County is a big county with a small population, I tend to see the same people over and over, when it comes to those involved in community organizations, festivals and other events.

As Master Gardener Kathy Goodwin said at the second farmer's market meeting, most people are busy with work and family and other obligations, so the more people who volunteer to help form and run a market, the better the chances one will actually be established. In other words, it's a bigger job than two or three people can be expected to do.

So, I was again a little skeptical when the second meeting was held on March 5. While the first farmer's market meeting attracted a good crowd, it offered a free lunch and a second topic a lot of people are interested in -- how to get started with fruit trees.

But Fulton County came through again on March 5. There was no free lunch this time, and some people were giving up their lunch hour to attend. But I counted 26 people who showed up to support getting a farmer's market off the ground -- and no one made a run for it when MaLinda Gray and Brad Runsick, from the Extension Service, said they were passing around a sign-up sheet seeking people willing to serve on a committee and someone to chair it.

As ideas were discussed, 10 people signed up for the committee. Many who did not sign up had good ideas, and seemed willing to help out any way they could.

Another positive: there were new faces in the crowd, representing a good cross section of the community.

Jim Stanfield, who moved to Fulton County from Washington state, has some experience that might be helpful. He served as a parks commissioner in Washington, has dealt with farmer's markets and mentioned there will be a need to investigate liability insurance before opening a market.

Beverly Reeves of Glencoe signed up for the committee, and volunteered to lead the first step toward a farmers market -- writing by-laws to establish the rules and regulations it would follow. Reeves pointed out she is not a farmer, gardener or potential crafts vendor -- she would be a consumer, and people like her need to be on the committee because, if shopper's needs and wishes are ignored, a market will not succeed.

Salem Church of Christ minister Mike Yates is excited about starting a regular event which will offer fresh, healthy food, and bring the community together. Since he is also a blacksmith and makes hand-forged knives (I didn't know that), he may become a vendor.

Jordan Everett of Glencoe is brimming over with excitement. She wants to grow and sell produce, and already has plants started in her new greenhouse.

A number of people support a farmer's market in hopes it will help them find more "naturally grown produce without all the chemicals."

"A lot of kids have never seen a real green bean or a live chicken," Robin Moore said. She sees a farmer's market as a great way to educate children (and parents) about how good fresh fruits and vegetables are, and the many ways to prepare them.

Eight members of the Amish community attended the last meeting. While they already grow and sell produce and have regular customers, they are interested in having a new place to sell their goods, and don't see other sellers as competition. "The small farmer needs a place to sell," was their sentiment.

There are still a lot of hurdles to jump over pretty quickly, if a Fulton County Farmer's Market is to come to life this summer. Supporters will have to agree on a location and get it set up to handle vendors and shoppers. Decisions must be made on exactly what can and can't be sold at the market, and rules will be needed to use in mediating disputes.

I guess we'll find out on March 26 -- the next meeting of farmer's market supporters -- whether the support and enthusiasm continues.

More people are welcome to jump on the bandwagon. The meeting will be held at noon at the Hickinbotham-Miller building at the fairgrounds.

My skeptical self wants to say, 'There's too much to get done and people will get discouraged or start bickering.'

But, at the last meeting, I asked, 'Do you think a farmer's market can be organized and up and running this year?'

Everyone agreed it can be done.

I'm starting to believe maybe it can.