Statesboro is seeing a rebirth of the farmers market with Georgia Southern University’s Botanical Gardens serving as the driving force behind the movement.
Born from the agenda of the education committee of the Botanical Gardens, the movement is an outgrowth of an informal farmer’s market that was conducted by the Gardens as a part of its Farm and Forest Festival this past November.
Debra Chester, chair of the education committee, said this past November’s market was so successful that many of the 25 vendors sold out of their products by noon.
“We asked folks to sign a list if they were interested in having a market on a consistent basis,” Chester said. “Hundreds of people responded acknowledging that they wanted more market opportunities. On Saturday, March 29, the Gardens will host its annual Spring Festival and Plant Sale and there will indeed be another farmers market.”
But, the crew at the Botanical Gardens is not stopping there. Plans have been finalized to bring a more “permanent” and ongoing farmer’s market to downtown Statesboro.
“With this sort of momentum, it seemed natural to form an ad hoc committee composed of representatives from the farming community, local business people and government officials including Heath Seymour, the director of the Main Street Program,” Chester said. “The committee decided after talking with other market managers across the state that it was time to form a market which would represent farmers from Bulloch and surround counties.”
The first Market on Main, as it is informally being called now, will be held on April 19 in the Sea Island Bank parking area. It is being held in conjunction with the Celebration South Festival.
“It seemed to be a good time to kick off the market idea since so many people will be downtown for the festival,” Seymour said. “The ambience of downtown with trees and parking lends itself to a farmer’s market. We are so pleased and excited. It is a win-win for everybody – downtown and local residents.”
The same groups which have been identified and invited to the GSU Botanical Gardens will have an opportunity to help form this co-op of farmers and local craftsmen. According to Chester, the operative word is “local” meaning that food and crafts must be of local origin rather than products which have been trucked in from hundreds of miles from other regions.
“We will continue to work out the specific criteria as the markets evolve through this first season, but right now we know that it is important to support local endeavors and besides, the food is fresher, taste better, and we know who grew it. Actually, that is how our motto came about – ‘Know your neighbor, know your food.’”
One local farmer who is very excited about the prospect of a “permanent” farmer’s market is Al Clark, owner of Clark Farm and Produce in Twin City. Clark said small farms such as his need more outlets for their produce.
“There is a big movement on the consumer’s end to buy local fruits and vegetables,” Clark said. “People want to know where their produce comes from and how it is grown. In addition, we can bring the product to the consumer for a little less since there is no ‘middle man’ at the farmers market.”
Chester said after the inaugural Market on Main on April 19, a market schedule will be advertised so consumers can plan their grocery shopping around the seasonal food produced in our region.
“Right now, we are planning on once a month until June and then every other week on Saturday from 9 to 2 until growing season is over in September,” Chester said. “We are also looking for a more ‘permanent home’ downtown. We appreciate Sea Island Bank’s graciousness in letting us start off in such a great location.”
Sea Island’s president and CEO Wayne Akins said he is surprised that a farmers market had not been formed sooner.
“I think there is no better garden spot in America than Bulloch County,” Akins said. “From Vidalia onions to strawberries, we have it right here. We should definitely have a farmer’s market. I applaud the Downtown Development Authority and Botanical Gardens for all of their efforts. I think it is going to go over in a big way, and we are very excited to provide a location for it.”
Chester expects 27 vendors to participate in the farmers market at the Botanical Gardens this weekend.
“We will have everything from cheese to fresh eggs, syrup, honey, pecans, peanuts, greens, and Amish and whole grain breads, salsas, jams, ciders, and baked goods,” she said. “We expect double the number of vendors for the downtown market on April 19.”
Deanna Strickland of Strickland Farms plans to participate in both markets.
“My husband and I have a vegetable stand on Highway 67 that we operate during the summer,” she said. “The farmer’s market will give us a chance to advertise where we are the rest of the week.”
“People are so excited about truly fresh food,” Strickland said. “This is a wonderful way to let local residents know what all is being grown in Bulloch County and what is available. We want families to gather and see all of the good that is here.”