If You Build It, They Will Come: Livingston Farmer’s Market

Mississippi Magazine
May / June 2012

Once upon a time, before central air conditioning and television sets brought us in from our front porches, people took the time to get to know their neighbors.  There were no early morning meetings to rush off to, no cell phones to distract us, and no rush hour traffic to put us behind schedule.  Good fences did not make good neighbors, but rather good neighbors made good friends.

Five years ago, developer David Landrum set out to bring back those good old days.  His inspiration came from a long-forgotten Mississippi town that last saw its heyday when the horse and buggy were a preferred mode of transportation.  The town of Livingston was established as Madison County’s first town and served as the original county seat from 1828-1833.  Located at the crossroads of Highway 463 and 22, Livingston was once considered a thriving center of business that would meet its demise some thirty years later after being bypassed by the Mississippi Central Railroad.

The first time Landrum visited the site, the only evidence left to suggest that Livingston had even existed were a few overgrown roadbeds.  It was enough to convince him that the site had potential.  Six months later Landrum and several investors purchased the land and set out to restore the town to its former glory.

The goal – create a community that not only highlights Mississippi’s historic roots, but also celebrates the best of what Mississippi has to offer through food, music, literature and art.  That vision includes focusing on the farm-to-table movement, which seeks to take locally produced food and deliver it straight to consumers.   As momentum began to build, Landrum, his wife Jill, and Creative Director Leisha Pickering felt they needed to create something that would tie the entire community together.  Thus, the idea of the Livingston Farmers Market was born.

“We want our town to have an organic, earthy feeling that is supportive of local farmers, artists, and craftsman while celebrating our state’s natural resources,” Pickering said.  “We felt like establishing our own farmer’s market would encourage people to come out and be a part of our town and help lay the groundwork for what we are trying to accomplish.”

The group brought in Richard Butler, former director of the Mississippi Farmer’s Market, to head up the operation as Farmer’s Market Project Manager.  Butler worked with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce every step of the way to ensure the market met every guideline needed to become a certified farmer’s market.  On June 2 of last year, the market opened with 18 vendors.

“Honestly, that first market we were all nervous,” said Landrum.  “The closer it got to four o’clock when we were supposed to open the more we wondered if anyone would show up.”

Jill Landrum adds, “When we first told people about our plans, their first reaction was usually, ‘You are going to build a town where?’  We wondered if we built this, would people really come?”

The Landrum’s fears were unfounded because in the end, people did come.  They came not only to purchase fresh produce and handmade crafts from farmers and artisans all across the state, but to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and spend a moment relaxing and reconnecting with their community.  By the time the market closed in the fall, the market was realizing almost 1,000 visitors a week and the number of vendors grew to nearly 30.

“We thought once the summer months started getting hotter that people would probably come, get their groceries, and leave,” David Landrum admits.  “But we noticed that people would stay and hang out.”

Jill Landrum agrees, “People came back week after week.  I think they really longed for that connection and sense of community.  They would sit, visit, and listen to music. The atmosphere was really special.”

So what can a first time visitor expect when they make a trip to the Livingston Farmer’s Market?  Right off the bat, they are met by rows and rows of tents shaded by a canopy of trees on the site of the old Livingston town square.  Guests have their pick of fresh, seasonal produce – much of it grown in Mississippi – including tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, watermelons, and berries.  They can also pick up something special – such as a jar of homemade jam, goat’s milk soap, a loaf of homemade bread, and other handmade gifts.  Before heading home with a bag full of goodies, they can enjoy a cup of freshly squeezed lemonade or a glass of wine from the wine bar and take a moment to enjoy some live music.  The market also has children’s activities to ensure even the youngest visitor has a good time.

“People who make the trip for the first time come away with something that goes way beyond a traditional farmer’s market,” Butler said.  “Everything is carefully planned and executed so that you leave with a totally different experience.”

This year’s farmer’s market kicks off on May 17 and will continue every Thursday from 4-8 p.m. through October.  The number of participating vendors is expected grow another fifty percent and include farmers from as far away as Greenwood and Simpson and Smith counties.   Several area restaurants will be returning this year to give cooking demonstrations on how to prepare locally grown food.

Just as the Town of Livingston will soon begin to grow and evolve, plans are in the works to keep the farmer’s market new and exciting.  Livingston’s first building – a permanent pavilion to house the market – is expected to be completed later in the year.  Viking Range has plans to construct an outdoor kitchen for cooking demonstrations.  In keeping with the organic, farm-to-table focus, a working farm will produce fresh eggs, cut flowers, and vegetables in addition to a greenhouse for varieties not found locally.

“Our goal is to build one of the best farmer’s markets in the country,” David Landrum reveals.  “Not only are we supporting local farmers, but encouraging growth in the local economy.”