Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
As of this weekend, vendors participating in the Jacksonville Farmers Market should know where they will be setting up for the rest of the season, according to Carmen Sosa, market director for the East Texas Communi-ty Food Coalition.
“It was only for this past Tuesday that we sat up (at a location on East Commerce near the Tomato Bowl) – that was a temporary location,” she said. “We hope by Saturday to learn where we'll be.”
The Jacksonville Farmers Market is part of a coalition, which also has partnered with two other farmers markets in Tyler, where the group is based, according to the website www.foodcoalition.org. The coalition, a not-for-profit organization that formed in 2012, aims “to help nourish sustainable communities by creating better access to affordable and nutritious food,” the website states.
Produce offered for sale is grown within 75 miles of market sites.
A partnership with another group of local farmers – organized through the Lone Star Military Farmers – ended after approximately four weeks when participants of the local group, based in Cherokee County, questioned changes in cost after joining the coalition.
According to Lois Hutson, LSMF specialist, local farmers initially agreed upon a low, one-time fee to set up for the season at markets in Jacksonville, Rusk or both.
However, vendors balked after recently learning they would be required to pay what amounted to a per-use fee issued by the coalition.
“We intentionally wanted to keep the overhead low so that we could help our local farmers,” Hutson said in Wednesday interview with the Jacksonville Daily Progress, explaining that the association with the coalition ended shortly thereafter.
“It was not sensible to ask our farmers to do that” when they already agreed to an original fee, Hutson said.
A nutrition voucher program adopted by the coalition was what first attracted Cherokee County farmers to the organization, because this is an economically disadvantaged area and they wanted to help consumers stretch their buying dollars, Hutson added.
Initially described as offered through a different government program, Sosa clarified that the voucher program is actually a cooperative effort among the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Food Coalition Association and the Northeast Texas Public Health District.
The entities “teamed up as part of a pilot program to encourage low-income mothers and their young children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said in an email Thursday.
“The Farmers Market Nutrition Program … helps create much better access to fresh, locally grown produce for the recipients of these nutrition benefits.”
Members of the Coalition can opt to accept the vouchers during market days; “We are proud to say that all of our farmers markets have elected to join this nutrition program … in the four weeks since the Jacksonville Farmers Market opened, we have distributed vouchers equavalent to over $4,000 worth of fresh, locally grown produce,” according to Sosa's email. “That goes a long way towards nurturing a healthy community.”
Her email also pointed out that “the Jacksonville Farmers Market (operated by the Coalition) is currently the only farmers market association in East Texas authorized to accept Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers,” although interested markets can contact John Kyere with the Texas Department of Agriculture for more information how to become part of that program.
The rest of the market season, however, only the farmers who are part of the East Texas Community Food Coalition Association – the group currently waiting to learn where they can permanently set up a site – accept program vouchers.
The Farmers Market at Sadlers – the group of growers who originally established a market at the 101 S. Bonner site as early as last year – does not accept these vouchers, Hutson said, and will be directing participants to the Jacksonville Farmers Market vendors if asked.
In other news, the group at the Sadler's site have added another market day to their calendar.
Beginning this Saturday, the vendors will be at the South Bonner location from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. or when produce runs out.
Regular market day in Rusk is Thursday evenings, outside Barb's Too restaurant, 1007 S. Dickinson.