The Mainstreet Farmers Market completed its 2015 season with sales and average attendance similar to 2014's and now heads toward its April 2016 reopening with plans for a more formal structure and hopes of increasing community involvement.
Meanwhile, Statesboro area residents can buy winter produce and other items from local farms, mills, bakers and craftspeople through the affiliated online Statesboro Market2Go, which continues year-round.
Debra Chester, chairperson of the Mainstreet Farmers Market's community advisory board, said a formal board of directors is now being created. The advisory board has about 20 members. The board of directors, she said, is proposed to have only nine members but will appoint committees, with specific responsibilities, involving other people.
"I think that's going to generate a little more community enthusiasm for the market and give it a really better infrastructure for moving forward into the future because we do need to have more buy-in from our community leadership," Chester said.
The market will continue to operate under the fiscal supervision of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. But the market board of directors will make decisions on things like rules for the market and the employment of market managers, she said.
Chester hopes the new organizational structure will help build momentum toward acquiring a permanent, covered facility for the market. For years now the Mainstreet Farmers Market has held its seasonal Saturday sales downtown in the Sea Island Bank parking lot now known as Charlie Olliff Square.
Organizers hope to have the committee in place and for it to hold its first meeting before April, she said.
Chester, who is an unpaid volunteer, said she will serve as a board member but wants to "pass the baton" to others.
"You know, it is important to an organization to maintain continuity, of course, but also to bring in fresh ideas and enthusiasm," she said.
The market's managers
Chester referred questions about the 2015 Saturday market season, which ran from the first week of April through the third week of November, to two of the market's paid part-time staff.
Paula Freeman, a certified public accountant with a full-time job at a local management company, serves as the Mainstreet Farmers Market bookkeeper and manages the online market.
Total sales for the Saturday markets in 2015 were more than $220,000, based on estimates collected from the vendors each week, and the market averaged a little over 1,000 customers each week, Freeman said. The season included 35 Saturday markets.
In 2014, Freeman and Chester had provided more particular numbers of $227,874 in total Saturday sales and an average 1,054 shoppers each week. But these also involved vendor-reported sales and informal attempts to count shoppers.
After the Saturday morning markets, the outdoor market season actually concluded with Shopping by Lantern Light, on the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving. This was the first time in three years that Shopping by Lantern Light has taken place on its originally intended day. The previous two years weather prompted postponement until the Christmas-themed December First Friday event.
This year's Saturday market manager, Bethany Soph, 21, a Georgia Southern University senior majoring in nutrition and food science with an emphasis in dietetics, emailed additional information on the markets.
Soph reckoned the 2015 season, just ended, as the ninth annual, counting forward from a "happy start as a festival in the GSU Botanical Garden in 2006 when a few hundred people shopped with 10 venders in a field behind the Bland Cottage."
Nation goes ‘local'
She sees the Statesboro Mainstreet Farmers Market's success as part of a national movement to "eat local" and "know your farmer; know your food." Nationally, farmers markets have grown in number from about 2,900 in the year 2000 to more than 8,000 in 2015, Soph said. Georgia now has more than 200 community markets.
Most food that is sold near where it is grown is sold through farmers markets, roadside stands and farm stores, and 80 percent of proceeds are kept by farmers selling through farmers markets versus selling through distributors where farmers keep only 25 percent, Soph said.
"Local growing and selling means putting money back into our economy, healthier eating, opportunities to educate consumers, and providing opportunities for business development and entrepreneurship," she wrote. "Hunter Cattle, Freeman Mill, B&G Honey, Clark and Sons, Three Tree Coffee Roasters, Southern Swiss Dairy, Walker Organics and many more are examples of businesses which have developed and grown through market involvement."
She counts the April-November market as having 1,500 current customers and typically 30 vendors a week.
The online market, which can be found by searching "Statesboro Market2go," now has a membership of 150 customers, Soph reported. Orders are taken online from Friday evening until Tuesday evening, with pickup on Thursday afternoons at Sugar Magnolia Bakery. The Mainstreet Market has also partnered with the GSU Wellness Center, the university's dietetic internship program and undergraduate nutrition classes and the GSU office of Sustainability to hold on-campus markets, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesdays during the spring and fall semesters.
This was the third year that the Statesboro Main Street Market has participated in the My Market Club grant, awarded by Georgia Organics, a statewide nonprofit organization for organic farmers and consumers. The program provides an incentive for first-time shoppers to try the market.
Those who have never shopped there before can request and receive $5 in tokens to spend at the market, plus gifts toward two more visits. This year, another GSU student majoring in nutrition and food science, Eminah Quintyne, operated the My Market Club booth at the market each Saturday.
Soph, from Canton, is scheduled to open the Saturday markets in April but will be graduating in May.
"Our market has been an incubator for great ideas in new ways to distribute food and to create locally based economies and to build community," she said. "When you shop with us you are part of something huge. Something that could shift the way we spend, the way we eat and the way our daily lives are structured ... for generations."
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.