To Market, To Market

eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2012

The popularity of local farmers’ markets has seen a healthy increase in popularity over the last 15 years, more so since 2008 as more people become conscious of their health and what they are eating. According to the USDA, the number of farmers’ markets across the U.S. increased 17% in 2011, from 6,000 to over 7,000 markets.

There are numerous advantages to buying locally grown produce. First, you are directly supporting the local economy. By purchasing an item from someone who lives in your own community, county, or state – instead of a major grocery chain – they are able to turn around and put that money back right back into the economy.

Second is freshness. Commercially grown produce is often picked before it’s ripe, usually several days before it ends up on store shelves, and then refrigerated so the produce is able to withstand the arduous travel to its final destination. You have no idea how long ago your shiny red tomato was picked and because it was not allowed to ripen on the vine, it often does not develop its full flavor. Local produce is often picked within the last 24 hours. The fresher is it, the better it tastes.

Third is nutrition. Time, temperature changes, exposure to air and artificial light can all rob fruits and vegetables of their nutrients. Similarly, produce that has been picked early does not have as many nutrients as ripe produce. In order to survive the shipping process, some commercial farmers will even treat their fruits and vegetables with preservatives and chemicals to prevent bacterial growth. However, when a harvest’s final destination is just a short distance away, local farmers have the advantage of picking at just the right time and don’t have to take extra measures to ensure their crop can survive traveling across the country.

Finally, there is cost. Buying a pint of strawberries when they are in season is cheaper than buying them in the winter. While larger chain grocery stores may have the advantage of a lower price, farm stand produce typically lasts longer because it was picked recently, leading to less waste.

Mississippi has nearly 60 farmers’ markets registered with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce (MDAC), many of which are certified. The Mississippi Certified Farmers Market program is a voluntary distinction awarded to a market used by two or more Mississippi growers on a frequent basis for the direct sale of their own produce or food products to consumers. The certification also requires at least 50% of the agricultural products offered for sale are grown within the state. Whether you are health conscious or looking to save money, there is sure to be a farmers’ market in your area.

Hernando Farmers Market
A city of 15,000 people, Hernando is a small community that maintains its 1800’s charm while still just a short distance away from the Memphis-metro area. The city already has a well-established foodie community and in 2008, area development officials decided to launch a farmers’ market to encourage its citizens to buy local and attract more young professionals to the community.

“On any given Saturday and even all week during the growing season, you’ll find roadside markets sprinkled on street corners or in parking lots throughout the county,” said Leigh Wills, manager of the Hernando Farmers’ Market. “Truly, the folks in DeSoto County love their markets, their farm fresh produce, and their homemade artisan products.”

The market began with three vendors who set up tables under the big oaks that shade the town square. By the end of the growing season, the market had grown to 15 vendors. Four years later, the market boasts between 65-70 full-time to seasonal vendors selling everything from fresh milk in glass bottles, local honey, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and fresh flowers. The popularity and growth of the market has not gone without notice. For two years in a row, it has been named Mississippi’s Favorite Farmers Market by the American Farmland Trust and ranked 7th nationally among markets with more than 56 vendors. It has also been featured in Mississippi Magazine as one of six favorite markets statewide.

“This has turned into more than a farmers’ market, it has become an experience,” says Shelly Johnston, director of community development for the City of Hernando. “People will come out, walk their dogs, buy their produce, and sit and talk. The market has really brought the community together like nothing else.”

Hernando Farmers’ Market
2535 Highway 51 South (historic Hernando Court Square)
Hernando, MS
Open every Saturday, May-October, 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

Indianola Open Air Market
Located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Indianola is known for blues and B.B. King. However, like most communities in the Delta, Indianola also has large agricultural roots. Approximately six years ago, members of the Bill Richardson Civic Alliance Group and Indianola Main Street decided to join forces and establish a community farmers’ market.

Set against the backdrop of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, the market has grown from four vendors to nearly 16 during peak growing season. Consumers can not only experience the rich culture that is the Mississippi Delta, but also enjoy live music while shopping for handmade crafts, garden plants, baked goods and, of course, home grown produce. Food and drinks are also available for purchase.

Maggie Barnes, an Indianola resident, helped found the market. “We really try to make sure the market stays community-oriented. We always take into account the different ethnics group in the area and make sure we have something for everyone. The market has become a gathering place for the community.”

Indianola Open Air Market
200 Second Street – B.B. King Museum
Indianola, MS
Open every Thursday, May – July as produce allows, 4-7 p.m.

Neshoba County Farmers Market
There is no question that Neshoba County and the surrounding areas are an agricultural community. Neshoba County is home to one of the state’s largest county fairs, whose humble roots began as a two-day meeting for local farmers. Nearly three decades ago, the local chapter of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation established the Neshoba County Farmers Market as a way to bring together small farmers and consumers looking to purchase fresh produce. Today, the market is currently the only market in Mississippi sponsored by a local Farm Bureau chapter.

The market boasts around 10 vendors selling everything from fresh squash, potatoes, onions, beans, cabbage, okra, tomatoes peas and cucumbers. All items are harvested from Neshoba County and the surrounding area. This year, the market plans to enhance the Saturday market by offering baked goods.

Harvin Hudson, county director of the Neshoba County Cooperative Extension Service, hopes to continue growing the market’s popularity. “We are always looking for new producers and welcome them to be a part of our market.”

Neshoba County Farmers Market
Highway 16 East – Behind Farm Bureau Office
Philadelphia, MS
Open every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; June – September; 6 a.m. – 9 a.m.

The Mississippi Farmers’ Market
The Mississippi Farmers’ Market has the distinction of being one of the oldest and largest markets in the state. The market can trace its roots back to the early 1950’s. In 2005, it relocated to an 18,000 square-foot facility in downtown Jackson near the fairgrounds. During peak growing season, customers have more than 60 vendors to choose from.

The market really stresses being a “grower’s market,” meaning that vendors have to produce what they sell. Farmers are required to undergo an annual inspection to ensure that their goods are actually being grown on their farm. Even arts and crafts vendors must source much of the raw materials used in producing their goods from within the state.

“Our customers have been really supportive of our movement,” says Will Scarborough, manager of the Mississippi Farmers’ Market. “Many of our vendors are specialty farmers, meaning they specialize in growing specific produce. We get a lot of visitors from out-of-town, but locals are the people who benefit the most.”

In addition to fresh produce, craftsmen and artisans, the market also offers cooking demonstrations from culinary schools and chefs from area restaurants, live entertainment, senior citizen and children activities, and seasonal events and promotions. Visitors can also grab a bite to eat at the Farmers Market Grille, a permanent eatery that serves breakfast and lunch.

The Mississippi Farmers’ Market
929 High Street
Jackson, MS
Open every Saturday; last weekend in January until a week before Christmas; 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Open Tuesday, Thursday; mid-May to August; 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Ocean Springs Fresh Market
Just a few miles away from the glitz and glamour of Biloxi, Ocean Springs has the appeal of a quiet beachfront community. The warmer climates found along the Mississippi Gulf Coast afford farmers in the area almost a year-round growing season. The Ocean Springs Fresh Market began in 2004. After closing down briefly in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina, the market reopened a year later. During peak growing season, the market has around 25 vendors selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly baked artisanal breads, fresh pasta, eggs, and fresh flowers.

The Ocean Springs Fresh Market also prides itself on being a producer only market. Diane Claughton, founder of the market, personally visits each vendor to verify that they produce what they sell.

“Many people think that all markets calling themselves ‘farmers markets’ have farmers,” Claughton said. “Unfortunately, a great number of these are in reality ‘resellers markets’ in which most or all of the produce is purchased from a wholesaler and trucked in from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Ocean Springs Fresh Market is a producer only market, meaning that all of the vendors either grow or produce their products in the Gulf Coast region and the producer or an employee is at the market to answer any questions.”

Claughton explains that many of her farmers either pick their produce late the day before market, or early the day of. She recommends visitors get to the market early when the best selection is available and to bring cash. Claughton encourages consumers to talk to the vendors and ask questions about how their produce was grown and what tips they have for keeping their produce fresh.

“Mississippi is a state with a long, rich history in agriculture,” Claughton adds. “Many of our customers shop in our market in part because they want to help Mississippi grow more farmers.”

Ocean Springs Farmers Market
1000 Washington Avenue
Ocean Springs, MS
Open every Saturday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Year round