Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 9, 2013

First markets of the season boast healthy attendance

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — The first open-air markets of the season in Rusk and Jacksonville “went very well,” said Lois Hutson, Lone Star Military Farmers support specialist/resource development, adding that organizers expect that as summer progresses, the venues will grow in popularity.

While the Rusk market, which opened last Thursday outside Barb's Too restaurant at 1007 S. Dickinson, had a smaller crowd with 20-25 people in attendance, Hutson was thrilled to see vendors run out of produce and other items there and on Tuesday in Jacksonville.

“We were really surprised and happy about it,” she said.

The Jacksonville event – held at 100 S. Bonner Street – attracted approximately twice as many attendees, with a handful of farmers offering an array of goodies from fresh eggs and goat's milk products, to fresh produce, flavored vinegars and “pre-dried, long-term food products.”

There also was live music at the inaugural Jacksonville market, provided by local artist Randy Brown, and beginning this year, LSMF are accepting WIC as payment for vegetables, she said.

A representative from the Texas Women, Infants and Children  program was on-site Thursday, distributing vouchers for program participants to receive fresh veggies.

Participants take the vouchers to any of the farmers who are registered with the program and who offer WIC-approved vegetables at the two open-air markets and receive fresh produce from the farmer, who is subsequently reimbursed by WIC.

The program is turning out to be a successful one, Hutson said, adding, “we ran out of produce from the number of people who (utilized the voucher system).”

As the season progresses, Hutson figures the number of both farmers and attendees at the two events will increase, showing up every week until farmers “don't have anything left to sell.”

The open-air markets are a “comfortable (environment) where people can come and talk leisurely with the (vendors, and maybe) have a meal before leaving,” she said. “The reason why they linger is because they want to know the farmers, and I tell them to ask questions – ask how they raise their produce, according to what you want. Do you want something that's raised organically or commercially? Ask them where they grow their crops, and how they grow them. Because (consumers) have a right to know how their food is raised, which is really what makes farmers markets such a success.”