Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming and local residents can get fresher produce straight from local farmers’ hands.
The Rutherford County Farmers’ Market kicks off its 2012 season at 7 a.m. Friday and continues every Tuesday and Friday morning through Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Lane Agri-Park, located at 315 John R. Rice Blvd. in Murfreesboro.
Touted as a producer-only farmers’ market, the sale draws vendors from more than 20 Middle Tennessee counties who sell a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, baked and canned goods, flowers, plants and more.
Main Street Saturday Market, a production of Main Street’s downtown revitalization program, will begin its selling season on Saturday, June 2, and continue through October. This market starts at 8 a.m. Saturday mornings and is located around the Rutherford County Historic Courthouse on the Square.
Now in its third year, the Saturday Market was launched in an effort to make fresh goods available to residents who couldn’t make it to a Farmers’ Market during the work week and brings more than 50 vendors to the Square each week.
Both Markets have been successful in bringing nutritious produce straight from the soil to the table, and now thanks to an $85,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Rutherford County Farmers’ Market will be able to put its goods in the hands of the underserved.
Officials with the Market announced some changes back in February, including the accepting of Electronic Benefits Transfer payments, formerly known as food stamps, and credit and debit card payments, also made possible in part from the grant. This change will definitely increase the total volume of customers to the Market, Rutherford County Farmers’ Market spokeswoman Janie Becker said.
“Rutherford County families who rely on EBT benefits for their grocery shopping will now have the option to purchase fresh, healthy foods directly from the farmers – an option not available before,” she said, adding the Market only accepted cash until this year.
“We’ve already heard many positive comments from customers who primarily use ‘plastic’ forms of payment. One woman pointed out that she would now be able to stop those early morning runs to the ATM before heading over to the farmers’ market. Another said that she would be using the cash equivalent tokens like gift certificates for some recent graduates on her list.”
Vendors have been equally optimistic about the changes, according to Becker.
“Initially, there may have been some hesitancy for fear that it would complicate the market, but as soon as the system was explained, they have been excited at the opportunity to expand their sales and their customer base without adding to their overhead costs,” she said.
MTSU interns will walk customers through the process of the wooden token system. While the tokens issued for EBT benefits have some restrictions as they can only be used to buy food, the credit and debit tokens will be treated just like cash by all of our vendors.
“Since they don’t expire, you can stock up or just get what you need, as you need them,” Becker said. “Our mission is to connect farm producers in the area to Rutherford County consumers for the mutual benefit of each group. The needs of both small farm producers and those of our community are continually changing. We strive to be flexible enough to meet those needs and to use creativity and forethought to plan for the future.”
Central Murfreesboro was included in a recent trend of food deserts, wherein residents living within a specific radius have low or limited access to full-sized grocery stores, which can limit inhabitants’ intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and other items that make up a healthy diet.
“That is an issue we have been trying to address through our partnership with MTSU and our Grow Healthy Rutherford Initiative,” Becker explained. “We have been working on ways to develop more public and private transportation options for customers who live in Murfreesboro’s food deserts, but who may not have available transportation that would allow them to reach the RCFM.”
At this point, organizers have a couple of community partners who are planning new, weekly shuttles to the RCFM for their clients.
“We hope to be able to offer a regularly scheduled route on Tuesday mornings by early to mid-summer,” she said, adding that while Rover has expressed an interest in doing so, at this time, it does not have a route that crosses the interstate.
Along with providing healthy options for residents, the Rutherford County Farmers’ Market hopes the changes will bring new clientele to the market in addition to returning customers.
“We are opening an hour later this year, at 7 a.m., and staying open until noon. This change is the result of listening to our customers who would like the opportunity to shop during their lunch hour.”
After a successful extended season last year, Becker says the Market will reopen on from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays beginning in November and lasting until Christmas.
“We strive to continually meet new potential customers – those who didn’t even know they could buy from local farmers – as well as those who have wanted to check us out but were limited by our hours, payment options, etc.,” Becker said.
Her advice for newbie shoppers? Get to know the farmers.
“Really, take advantage of the chance to know more about your food and who grew it,” she said. “Ask how long they’ve been farming, what they like about it, what their favorite products is. Instead of asking ‘Do you spray?’ ask how they handle pest and disease problems. These are all questions you’ll never be able to ask the grower of supermarket foods.”