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Farmers markets serve as local development driver
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Farmers markets present obvious benefits for both customers and growers, but the operations also provide an avenue for rural and urban community development.
In April 2010, there were 52 known farmers markets in Mississippi. Four years later, there were 84 -- an indication that more local governments and organizers are realizing the opportunities markets provide for growth.
The uptick in new Mississippi farmers markets continues this year with the addition of a new one in Coffeeville. Allyson Coleman, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Yalobusha County, has worked with residents there who wanted to have a place to display and sell fruits and vegetables.
Coleman said community and local government support is crucial to the growth and success of any farmers market. Monthly interest meetings have attracted up to 20 people, while county officials and private landowners have stepped up to donate land to serve as a home for the new market. She said those developments are strong indicators that Coffeeville’s new market will get off to a good start, but aggressive promotion and marketing will also be needed to attract a high turnout at the onset and increase the customer base over time.
“You have to have a good community of growers who are invested in the market,” Coleman said. “One vendor just makes a roadside stand. You have to have several volunteers and the backing of your town and county governments. If you don’t have government support, you’re not going to get it from your community.”
In preparation for starting the market in Coffeeville, Coleman closely studied a well-established market in neighboring Water Valley. She said the market not only brings foot traffic to nearby restaurants, but also more customers to stores that co-op with market vendors.
“The founder of the market in Water Valley eventually started an organic farm-to-table grocery store with a restaurant, and you have other restaurants in the area that have recently opened,” Coleman said.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study of farmers markets in Georgia concluded that the facilities had an economic multiplier of 2.66, meaning for every dollar spent at farmers markets, an additional $1.66 was created somewhere else in the local economy.
In Mississippi, the initial impact of $948,640 in direct farmers market income created a total impact of $1.6 million in business revenues in 2009, which meant 15.88 more part-time jobs, $213,720 in wages, and $16,000 in state and local taxes.
Rachael Carter, an economic development specialist with the MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development, said the farmers market initiative has been embraced by both Mississippi Main Street Communities and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce as an economic driver for both rural and urban areas.
“Farmers markets are important to the local economies because they can provide direct market support for local producers and support small business revenue in communities,” Carter said. “I think they’re important because they can create awareness about the agriculture sector and get it engaged with the retail sector. Anytime you can create that link, you have started an environment where someone who otherwise would not entertain opening a local business to consider doing so.”
Bob Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Main Street Association, said farmers markets have become one of the most popular business incubators for entrepreneurs seeking their own storefronts.
“The benefit is when you’re in a farmers market, you’re going to develop a client base,” Wilson said. “A lot of farmers markets are located near downtown areas. If you have a vacancy there, someone who has reached a point where they have repeat customers buying their goods may eventually be able to fill that space.”