Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market Re-Opens for Spring
An annual "rite of spring" has returned: opening day for the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market.
At the same time, state and federal officials make a stop in the valley to help make those kinds of markets a more powerful economic engine.
In 1993, there was a new, weekly Staunton Farmers Market with about a half-dozen vendors. Now there are Wednesday and Saturday sales in Staunton, Waynesboro and Verona, mirroring rapid growth nationwide. And the Department of Agriculture is offering tools to build on the momentum.
Temperatures in the 20s put the chill on opening day for the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market. But make no mistake; the agribusinesses are headed in the right direction.
"We've grown to usually averaging about 35 vendors for on Saturdays. Overall sales were close to half-a-million dollars last year," said Susan Randall, with Elk Run Farms.
The market is celebrating 20 years in downtown Staunton. But now it's among 230 farmers markets across the commonwealth, and the numbers keep growing.
"I've gotten a couple of calls this week from places that want to start markets - from regional health centers to senior citizen homes to just different communities who haven't had one before, recognizing the potential and the interest," said Leanne DuBois, with the Virginia Department of Agriculture.
The state and U.S. departments of agriculture are hosting market masters from all over Virginia. They're sharing keys to growth and success, like reaching customers in the SNAP program and tapping into grants that help farmers create new products.
"For instance, if you have goat milk and you're able to make goat cheese, take that to the farmers market and sell it. Then you're going to have a higher value added to that. You're going to make more for that product," said Ellen Davis, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture representatives say such a grant can help a fledgling agribusiness, but the business must bring the dedication.
"You've got to want to do this. You are your own boss so if you fail, it's your problem. There's no steady income. It's whatever the customer wants," Randall said.
State agency representatives say they're working with farmers markets to increase their access to SNAP customers and get their local food into more restaurants, schools and low-income housing complexes.
Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market Re-Opens for SpringMore>>