National Farmers Market Week highlights local produce, vendors
Jennifer Gardner // Aug 8, 2017
Ron Crihfield would much rather sell his produce directly to customers at Capitol Market than to a chain store along Corridor G. “We sell at retail price here, and when you sell to stores, it’s sold at wholesale price — about half. So, it makes a big difference,” he said.
Occasionally Crihfield Farms will sell to stores when there’s extra produce, but the market is where the farm makes the majority of its sales, and like other vendors, has built loyal relationships with its customers. Crihfield’s produce is picked every other day and shipped in the next, whereas food at the grocery store may have been picked weeks in advance.
“I think customers buy here because of the taste, versus the shipped-in products,” Crihfield said. “Anything vine-ripened is going to have a lot better taste and a lot better quality.”
To encourage consumers to meet, and buy from, local farmers and other vendors at farmers markets, the Department of Agriculture annually recognizes National Farmers Market Week, and last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation officially declaring the week to be held Aug. 6-13.
To kick off National Farmers Market Week, the state Department of Agriculture and Capitol Market teamed up for the 12th annual corn roast last week. Capitol complex employees purchased fresh peppers, peaches, tomatoes and more, supporting their local farmers and enjoying a free ear of corn while on their lunch break.
The event occurred simultaneously alongside “Capitol Market at the Capitol,” where Crihfield Farms and Gritt’s Farm sold their produce several consecutive Thursdays in July to promote the Market and offer statehouse employees and East End residents a chance to shop the Market closer to where they live and work.
“[Farmers markets] can have a tremendous impact on the economy in West Virginia, particularly to our rural areas, where we’ve seen so many of the larger grocery chains pull out,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt. “They give our citizens access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
In 2015, U.S. farmers sold nearly $9 billion worth of food directly to consumers, retailers, institutions and local distributors. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture estimates that agriculture contributes nearly half a billion dollars to West Virginia’s economy each year.
Leonhardt is working to revitalize agriculture in the state. He recently announced his plan to bring back the state’s Agriculture Advisory Board, which will consist of the commissioner, the governor and the director of cooperative extension service of West Virginia University.
“One of my ultimate goals for this one is to start getting a strategic plan for agriculture in this state, but understanding it’s not just about farming, it’s about the food industry as a whole,” Leonhardt said in an earlier article about the advisory board. “It’s about food safety, food security and economic development.”
In a way, a farmers market acts as a “business incubator” for farmers and connects them directly to their consumers. If it weren’t for the farmers market, many of Capitol Market’s vendors might be selling their produce “on the side of the road, like the old days,” according to Pat McCray, who works for Gritt’s.
“Our farmers are not producing on a scale that would be sellable to a Walmart or a Kroger,” said Parween Mascari, executive director of the W.Va. Farmers Market Association. “So, really being able to access the community on a local level is what they are interested in, and the farmers markets allow them to do that.”
West Virginia has more than 150 farmers markets around the state, according to the WVDA. Each county has at least one. “Buying local supports the community in a lot of different ways,” Mascari said. “It ensures that a greater percentage of revenues are kept in the community. It also builds community because you know where your food is coming from; you’re dealing directly with a farmer and you’re not so far removed from the process.”
The state Farmers Market Association is hosting giveaways and competitions on its social media throughout the week, along with a cookout featuring local foods with Leonhardt at noon on Friday at the State Fair in Lewisburg.
Following the cookout, the WVDA, FMA and the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition will host a farmers market stakeholder meeting from 2 to 4 p.m. All market managers are welcome to participate. Contact the WVFMA for more details.
Capitol Market will host a customer appreciation day on Saturday with a free corn roast, and Manna Meal will host its ninth annual Bean Stringin’ event Saturday at the Market.
Participants are asked to buy a pound of green beans at the Market, then string and donate them to Manna Meal. All ages are welcome. The event will also include local musicians and raffles. Reach Jennifer Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5102 or follow @jenncgardner on Twitter.