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Farmers Market Enjoys Harvest At New Facility

FARMVILLE – The Farmville Farmers Market Association ends its brief Christmas-time hiatus today (Wednesday), beginning 2013 secure in its North Street home built by the Town of Farmville.

Wednesdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. will see its members offering their goods through March 31, expanded hours and offerings returning in April with spring's warmer weather: 2-6 p.m. on Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from April 1 through the Saturday before Thanksgiving when the off-season hours return.

The market is doing very well, Roz Goin, then-chair of the association, told Town Council members during a work session.

More association members are selling more goods to more customers, according to Goin, who was able to address issues raised by a Town Council that would lend its additional support by selecting council member Sally Thompson to join the association's board of directors.

“I've asked Roz to come here because there've been some questions brought up in a council meeting about the Farmers Market and the procedures everybody goes through to participate,” Town Manager Gerald Spates explained.

One of the questions, Spates said, has been from people wondering how they can participate in the farmers market.

“There's a lot of people that have inquired about the rentals,” council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon said about renting space. “Some people feel it's too high…I don't know the validity of all this stuff. I just got bombarded one day…”

Goin answered that, “we have the cheapest fees of any farmers market that I know of. It's $50 for the whole year and it's two days a week so it comes down to between 50 and 55 cents a day to vend there.”

Goin cited other farmers markets that require venders to pay an application fee and six percent of what they sell each week, or weekly fees, and annual fees that exceed that of the Farmville Farmers Market Association and for markets that operate only from April to October.

“So we have the cheapest fees of anybody I know of,” she told Town Council.

As for access to sell at the market, Goin said “there have only been two people who have approached us who have been turned down. One was someone from Amelia who said he bought and sold wooden furniture, the other a man from Powhatan who bought sausage from a man in Lunenburg and wanted to sell” it.

The Farmville Farmers Market Association, she explained, is limited to Prince Edward and the counties that surround it.

“Now the board of directors also has the authority, if it's something none of our vendors sell and they're from out of the area, that we have the authority to say, 'Sure, you can come in,” she added.

The association, she continued, has “percentages of produce and meat and crafts, different areas, so that we don't get overloaded with any one particular item. I sell meat but I know people come to a Farmers Market for produce. So we have a much larger percentage of our vendors selling produce than anything else.”

Going over the average inventory, Goin said, “we have meats, we have produce, we have goats milk soap, we have potted plants, we have a lot of baked goods, we have wood crafts, we have a gentleman who makes barbecue.

“So we have a good variety of things,” she told council members.

Council member David E. Whitus asked about the association, how one joins and what the fees are used for.

The fees are mostly used for advertising and supplies, such as tables, tablecloths, and signs.

As for joining the association, anyone can do so, council member learned.

“Anybody who wants to be a permanent vendor pays $50 to the Farmers Market Association to become a member. So all of the permanent vendors are members of the association,” Goin answered.

“We also have people who come and vend one day. We also have a fee set up so that if you've never vended before you can come and vend four times for $25 and then if you decide that you like it you can pay the other $25 for the rest of the season,” she continued.

Because a lot of people think they want to sell at a farmers market and then they do it a time or two and then decide they don't like it and don't want to do it, according to Goin.

“I suggest strongly to anyone who's never done it before that they go the $25 route, so that way if you don't like it you're not out $50 (the annual membership fee), you're only out $25,” she said.

Someone who wants to sell for just one day can do so by paying $15.

“We really want people to be invested in the market, not just our customers, but our vendors as well,” Goin said.

That sort of spirit sees vendors and customers providing a spirit that will see the market continue to progress and flourish, she said.

As for its clientele, Goin said, “we have quite a good customer base. We have new people every week but we have some folks that we've seen virtually every Saturday for years and years and years.”

The new facility, meanwhile, is appreciated by one and all, by vendors and customers, alike.

“We're real pleased with our new location. We love it a lot. Especially on days when it rains,” she said of the well-roofed facility.

Council member Jamie Davis then asked Goin about the association's board of directors and how it was established.

“We have an annual election,” she replied. “We have an election for chair, vice-chair, a secretary and a treasurer.” (Keary Mariannino is the new chair of the association and Sue Smorto has been elected vice-chair.)

Spates asked Goin if the farmers market association “would have any objection if Town Council appointed a member” and Goin responded, “no, we'd love to have somebody from the Town come and join us.”

The advantage to a council member on the board of directors, the town manager noted, is “that way we would get feedback from the group, as well as they would get feedback from council if there were issues that came up.”

Davis wondered if the farmers market association deals with many complaints and Goin told him, “not really. There are a lot of folks who just don't understand the nature of a farmers market. They'll show up on April 1 wanting to know where the corn on the cob is. 'Well, why don't you have corn on the cob, they have it in the store?'

“That's because it came from Bolivia,” Goin continued. “You want local corn, you have to wait for the Fourth of July.” We get that kind of thing (complaint).”

Dr. Gordon asked Goin if the association is happy with the level of success experienced at the new North Street facility, with Goin enthusiastically answering, “Yes, oh yes, absolutely. When we were down at the train station there were maybe, on a really good day, six vendors. We were cooking on all cylinders if we had six vendors. And now if we have 10 or 12 we're going, 'Where is everybody?'”

Attendance, both in vendors and customers, is greatly dependent on the time of year, the growing season, she pointed out.

“The market does get smaller in the winter but we do go pretty much year-round. There will be some of us there year-round because our products lend itself to that,” she said.

“There have been times there at the market when-Yay!-it was actually very very crowded in there,” she added.

“I'm not going to say that every Saturday we have wall to wall customers,” Goin told council members. “It's like any other business; at the beginning of the month you have a lot of customers. As it gets to the last of the month you have fewer and fewer customers. And now that the market is dying back (for the winter) we don't have as many…but that's typical of any farmers market.”

When asked by Thompson about expanding association membership to additional counties, Goin explained that “for our vendors it gets to the point of diminishing returns. That's why we set percentage limits. If you have 20 vendors at a market and 18 of them are produce nobody makes a decent amount to make it worthwhile bothering to come. If they're selling a non-competitive product, chances are we'll take them. If it's something compatible with the market.”

Goin then noted that customers had heard rumors that the Town was going to take-over the farmers market, “swoop in and take it from them” and turn it into a flea market.

Dr. Gordon replied, “What I heard was the exact opposite…It's grapevine…I heard it wasn't doing that well, basically almost the exact opposite of what you're saying but I'm not one that knew…The way you're portraying it is much different. The Town has always been supportive and nobody from the Town has ever mentioned-we discuss many things and the thought came up that if it wasn't doing well maybe us stepping in to take it over was a possibility. Nobody ever wanted to take something successful away from somebody who was doing well. We've always been supportive…Nobody's looking to make money from it. No one's looking to do anything destructive towards it but I do think it would be a good idea to have somebody knowledgeable like Sally (council member Thompson) on board.”

Spates then noted, “the reason we moved it from the train station is we were getting a lot of complaints from people who were renting the train station…When you have somebody who pays to rent (the train station) and somebody tells them that they're not going to move (they don't like it).”

Dr. Gordon, reflecting on what Goin had told council members, said he thinks “a good percentage of the problem is that a lot of people don't really understand what a farmers market really is and that goes back to educating people and communication…”

The physician and council member would ask Goin, “You feel like you are a strong organization at this point?”

“Yes,” Goin firmly replied.

“Because there is also a rumor-just like you heard a rumor about the Town of Farmville-we have heard very strong rumors that you are a weak organization,” Dr. Gordon continued. “This is nothing personal. This is just grapevine news. That this was a weak organization that was falling apart…but you feel you are a strong organization and doing very well.”

“Oh yes,” Goin replied without hesitation, “we have more new members than we've ever had. We have more consistent participation in the market than we've ever had. Even now we have anywhere from 10 to 12 vendors (in the off-season) every week, where at the train station if we got six we were dancing in the street and if we had 15 customers when we were at the train station we were excited. And now if we don't have a hundred or so customers we're going, 'wow, this is slow today,” she said of the in-season customer turnout.

The farmers market is in its off-season now, but still open for those Wednesday afternoon hours and three more hours on Saturday mornings.

The association, however, is already looking ahead to the spring, summer and fall when the activity hustles and bustles.

“We're hoping it's going to grow by leaps and bounds,” Goin told council members, and the association want to keep working to grow the market until one day they have outgrown the new facility and have to decide “where to set up tents in the parking lot.”

What a harvest that would be.