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Market on the SquarePosted Monday, July 21, 2008, at 7:15 AM
Editor's note: This column originally was published in March in a special section of The Marshall Democrat-News,
There are well over 100 cities with farmer's markets across the state of Missouri , according to information on the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Web site.
Marshall isn't one of them.
So the question is -- why?
Here we sit in the middle of the nation's breadbasket, and in order to get fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which are grown nearby, our only choices are supermarkets selling produce from hundreds or even thousands of miles away -- or, if you're willing to drive more than 25 miles, farmer's markets in other towns.
There are some sellers of fresh produce who gather on an irregular
schedule in the parking lot at Aldi's on the south side of town.
That is not a farmer's market.
That is an unorganized group of individual entrepreneurs who are allowed to operate at the whim of the property owner. I'm glad it's there, although it's not always convenient for me personally, but it's not quite what I had in mind.
A farmer's market is an entirely different breed of cat.
A true farmer's market is a well-organized and regulated venue, often
in a central downtown area, which offers opportunities for a large number of local growers and producers of a variety of products to sell their wares on a local level.
The key word is "local" -- locally grown and locally sold. That's the trend in food on a nationwide level.
Since I moved to Marshall two years ago, I've asked almost everyone I've met why there is no local farmer's market in a town the size of Marshall and if they would patronize one if it existed.
Many people are enthusiastic about the idea, but I'm often met with quizzical stares, discussion about the "existing" farmer's market, or objections that range from "we used to have one but it didn't work out," to "there are legal issues."
If there used to be a farmer's market, there can be one again.
If there legal issues, and of course, there are -- safe and reliable food supplies are a key element in the American lifestyle -- let's look for ways to address and solve those problems.
It's not as if we'd have to go it alone.
Missouri Department of Agriculture has a full-blown program to assist towns and cities interested in the farmer's market idea, including workshops on how to get one going. The state is promoting what's being called "Agri-tourism" as a way to assist producers to expand their businesses.
There is grant money available on the national level through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration to help with the cost.
Studies have shown that those who patronize farmer's markets are doing so because they prefer to have fresh, locally-grown quality produce on their table.
But a farmer's market need not be confined to fresh fruits and vegetables -- the range of products that can be sold is very broad.
Consider fresh flowers, shrubs and green plants, vegetable and flower bedding plants, fresh herbs, honey, cheese, baskets, wine, jams and jellies, eggs, coffees and teas, artisan breads, and who could leave out barbecue? It's a very long list already, and I'm sure I'm missing other ideas.
Go to http://tinyurl.com/32tw5x for a complete list of saleable fruits and vegetables, season by season, for the state of Missouri. It's not just corn and soybeans.
If you've ever been to a farmer's market -- Columbia , Kansas City and Warrensburg all have one -- you know what a unique experience it is.
Ideally, it's not just about the available goods.
It's also about a central gathering place that includes mingling with the local community and socializing with family and friends old and new. It can include art and music, and bring a vibrant spirit to life that's often missing in our busy, busy world.
Marshall is uniquely blessed with an ideal location that just begs for a farmer's market.
What better place could there be than the courthouse square?
Let me put together what at first will appear to be a list of unrelated facts.
--There is great interest locally in getting our young people to stay here instead of moving to larger cities.
--We want to have better employment opportunities for everyone.
--We want to develop local opportunities for entrepreneurs.
--We want to increase the number of tourists who come here.
--We want more local businesses.
--According to some sources, 60 percent or more of the money spent at local businesses stays in the community, while a mere 30 percent of the money spent at non-local businesses goes elsewhere.
So what does that have to do with a farmer's market on the square?
--The courthouse square is centrally located, not just in the city, but in the county.
--It's easily accessible from I-70.
--It has plenty of room on all four streets, with ample parking nearby.
--It has existing retail businesses, with room for more.
--Now that the renovation of our lovely courthouse is underway, it's only a matter of time before it becomes a tourist destination. Saline County Courthouse is, after all, one of just two in the United States like it, an outstanding example of late 19th century architecture.
--An increase in tourism, based on the courthouse and a viable farmer's market, brings more people to the square, which means more people looking for something to do nearby.
--Putting more people in the downtown area boosts the retail businesses already there and perhaps generates interest in placing more retail businesses in that location or near it.
A farmer's market can be the start of bringing more tourist dollars to local businesses, insuring their viability, increasing oportunities for entrepreneurship at the local level and giving our young people a reason to stay here.
Is it something easily done?
No, of course not.
It takes time to get it started and more time to keep it going. But if we do nothing, then that's what we'll get -- nothing.
We can continue wringing our hands over the problems faced not just by the city of Marshall and Saline County but by rural communities across the U.S. , or we can jump in and do something about it.
Who's for jumping in?
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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.