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Farmer’s Market: ultimate summer business?

Janice Chisolm had been retired for seven years when the owner of the Farmer’s Market in Lexington asked her if she would be willing to work part-time for him. She has been out of retirement ever since, working in what she says is not only the ultimate summer business for her, but the ultimate year-round business.

Chisolm worked for the owner of the Farmer’s Market for about three years until he moved to California and put it up for sale. That is when Chisolm bought the market from him.

“I enjoy working with the public,” Chisolm said. “It’s a totally different work atmosphere from anything I’ve ever done and I absolutely enjoy it.”

Unlike some other farmers’ markets, Chisolm’s stays open year-round. During the summer months she sells fresh peaches, plums and nectarines and other produce not available during the winter months. In the fall and winter, she sells cantaloupes, honeydew melons, oranges and apples.

“It’s enjoyable work,” Chisolm said, but hard work too. Chisolm works six days a week from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and while her market is closed Sundays, she continues to work on her day off preparing fruit baskets, fruit trays, vegetable trays and gift baskets.

Like Chisolm, Jay Swindle was also retired when he opened the Farmer’s Market in Hernando. The Hernando market is the former traveling salesman’s third farmers’ market. He owned one in Kosciusko and one in Tuscaloosa before building the one in Hernando, which he opened about six weeks ago.

“I plan to be like Colonel Sanders — make more money after I retire,” Swindle said, and laughed.

Swindle said the business can be hectic at times, especially during the summer months, but he enjoys it. His history with farmers’ markets is a long one.

“I probably have 15 to 18 years of actual experience in produce,” Swindle said. “Much of my experience is part-time with my brothers. Back when we were on the farm we raised a lot of vegetables. When I was five years old I was helping carry watermelons out of the field.”

Swindle said he has always loved fruits and vegetables. It was after he retired that he drifted back into the business.

“When you see beautiful squash and all types of vegetables, to me that’s nature at its best,” Swindle said. “And you can see it in the summertime, especially.”

Swindle’s market is air-conditioned, and complete with a walk-in cooler. He said it is the freshness he is able to offer his customers as a result of the cool environment of his market that helps draw customers from as far away as Memphis.

And, Swindle added, “I really push quality. That is something I feel is a must with customers.” He plans to add a garden center to his produce market this fall.

At first glance, farmers’ markets may not appear to be lucrative businesses, but Billy Carter, manager of the Farmer’s Market in Jackson for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, said that is a misconception.

“The farmers’ markets in good locations do pretty well,” Carter said. “The owners can make a good living off of them. Some of these people, this is their sole income.”

And smaller fruit stands and farmers’ markets, while they may not be the sole income of an individual, can still provide a nice additional income for someone.

There are many different types of farmers’ markets and fruit stands. Some sell during the summertime, while others offer fruits, vegetables, jams and jellies and other items year round. But Carter said the farmers’ markets that do well all have one thing in common: a good location.

“Then you’re going to have to have some kind of building or something to sell out of,” Carter said. “Then you’re going to have to find the product that you’re going to sell. But the location is the most important aspect of farmers’ markets.”

It may not be a shoe-in for success necessarily, but for the owners of farmers’ markets, in many cases it is more than money that drives them to become farmers’ markets owners.

Swindle summed up his choosing to own a farmer’s market in just five short words: “It’s a lot of fun.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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