Jackson — Debbie Smith is counting down the days until the new Farmers Market opens May 14 on the Mississippi Fairgrounds.
Smith, who represents Wayne Smith Greenhouses in Brookhaven, will sell greenhouse tomatoes and gourmet lettuce directly to consumers, saving money for the farmer and the buyer by cutting out the middleman.
“We’re very pleased with the setup,” said Smith. “We like the location, and we think it’s going to be real good for the state.”
The venue will also allow Smith to dabble in selling a variety of cut flowers such as zinnias and sunflowers, “something I’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the opportunity,” she said.
“We visited markets all over the country, and the one at the fairgrounds was patterned after one in Asheville, N.C.,” said Smith. “They’re famous for their apples and really played them up. Inside a retail building, they had a restaurant and a bakery with homemade bread and pastries. I was real impressed, and we had a lot of fun. There’s a much bigger farmers market in Raleigh, but the one in Asheville was really nice for a market our size.”
The original, 57-year-old market on Woodrow Wilson Avenue will not close when the new one opens at the state fairgrounds in May, but it will no longer be called the farmers market. On June 30, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) will turn over control of the original market to the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). Longtime vendors may remain at the original market until the end of the year. DFA will then decide whether to continue operating the 18-vendor facility.
“I know people are disappointed with the old location being changed, but once they get used to the new one, they’re really going to like it,” said Smith, who sold fresh vegetables from the old market years ago.
MDAC spokesperson Patrick Sullivan pointed out the vital difference between the two farmers markets. Vendors at the Woodrow Wilson location resell fruits and vegetables, often from out of state. Vendors at the High Street location must be MDAC-certified and sell directly from their farms located inside the state.
“When we first started to get the message to farmers about what we were going to do, there was kind of a disbelief,” said Sullivan. “Once we convinced them, they began to get excited.”
To be certified, farmers must complete a simple form telling MDAC what they plan to grow and when it should be ready in the field.
“We have people visit the farm to see that acre of tomatoes, for example,” said Sullivan. “Already, more than 100 farmers have shown strong interest, and about half have turned in paperwork for certification. We’ve already made visits to farms to get ready for the May 14 opening.”
Phase one of the new $4-million facility was expected to open in May, but construction and rain delays have postponed its opening until late July or early August.
“Many farmers made planting decisions based on opening in May, so we stuck to our word of having a farmers market then,” said Sullivan. “We’re setting up a location at the fairgrounds entrance off High Street where farmers can sell fruits and vegetables free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. The bulk of crops will be coming in during June and July.”
The May 14 opening will feature displays by local restaurants using farmers market products, a drawing for a free produce basket, face painting for children and live entertainment.
The temporary farmers market will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The permanent facility will be open every day except Wednesdays and Sundays.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.