• Four people and the words, Extension Matters.

Foodie Market

Red potatoes in a biodegradable basket are flanked on either side by green snap beans.

Red potatoes are just one of the many locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables patrons buy at the Hernando Farmers’ Market in DeSoto County.

Hernando Farmers’ Market Thrives with Local Fare

Story by Leah Barbour  • Photos by Kevin Hudson

From the youngest to the oldest generations, thousands of people are visiting, shopping, and enjoying themselves at the Hernando Farmers’ Market, held Saturdays on the historic DeSoto County Courthouse lawn.

The market has more than just fresh produce. It connects the community by uniting the shoppers, producers, and artisans who come.

A woman wearing a green baseball hat and wearing a peach “Buy local, buy fresh” T-shirt carries a basket of fruits and vegetables.
Gia Matheny, Hernando Director of Community Development

While the market sells the traditionally expected fare, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, beef and pork, and canned and preserved foods, it also hosts tomato tastings, food-preparation demonstrations, food samplings, and recipe demonstrations. Plus, thanks to a longstanding partnership among the market, the city of Hernando’s Office of Community Development, and the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s local county office, the Hernando Farmers’ Market is being recognized in Mississippi and beyond.

Not only was the market ranked the largest outdoor market in Mississippi in 2017, but it was also voted “Mississippi’s Favorite Farmers’ Market” by the American Farmland Trust, says Gia Matheny, Hernando director of community development. Hernando received the “Healthy Hometown Award” from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Mississippi, and the AARP recognized Hernando as an “age-friendly community.”

Matheny credits the market’s success to the variety of activities, such as organized dancing and exercising geared toward all age groups, as well as the free transportation available to seniors who want to come to the market.

Extension representatives offer food-safety training for the vendors selling their goods, and they help organize some of the recipe demonstrations and tastings. Mississippi Master Gardener volunteers, a group of horticulture experts trained, organized, and overseen by Extension, staff booths and answer gardening questions. Perhaps Extension’s most important role, however, is verifying that participating producers are stocking their booths with local foods, Matheny explains.

“We are a little different: we work with Extension to verify that our farmers are bringing local foods, because we want to buy local and not undercut our local farmers,” Matheny says. “That’s a big draw for consumers and farmers. Our focus is truly agriculture—we are growing our local community and economy through agriculture.”

Joy Anderson, Extension’s DeSoto County coordinator, says the vetting process began, in large part, because of one of the standards state-certified farmers’ markets must meet: half or more of the agricultural products must be grown in Mississippi.

“The local produce is our biggest draw,” Anderson explains. “The integrity of the local food at our market is such a big key. We go an extra step to see the farmers to make sure that the people who aren’t farmers are getting the local foods they want.”

Matheny says the Hernando market’s fresh, local foods taste better and are more nutritious than those that have traveled long distances. The market’s family atmosphere welcomes everyone.

“It’s all-inclusive,” she emphasizes. “We’ve got the foodies and the growers who bring them what they want. We’re very friendly to low-income people, too: they just swipe their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards and get tokens, and nobody knows because all the tokens look so similar. Everyone has their small piece of the pie, and it’s helping us be recognized as the healthiest county in the state.”

The community connections that are being formed at and through the market mean the most to Matheny.

“Having a fresh, local farm product is a great resource, but the social connections—when we hold activities for all age groups and all people—we are bringing more people and welcoming more people to the market,” she says. “It’s been good for everybody.

“Our farmers’ market is really a social day for everyone.”

MSU Extension Service
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