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VOL. 128 | NO. 69 | Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Motivated by Freshness

Consumer demand for locally grown food spurs farmers market growth

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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As consumer demand for healthy, locally grown food has increased, farmers markets are cropping up all over Memphis.

Produce from Jones Orchard is just one of many local products that can be found at area farmers markets, including the above Farmer’s Market at Agricenter International.  

(Daily News File Photos: Lance Murphey)

Farmers markets provide a place for smaller producers to sell their goods, and hopefully earn a profit. But profitability can be challenging for the operators who run the markets. Some, like Agricenter International’s Farmer’s Market and the farmers market at the Memphis Botanic Garden run the markets to support their overall mission. They say the markets are about more than profitability.

The oldest farmers market in Memphis, The Agricenter’s Farmer’s Market, will begin its 26th season in May.

John Charles Wilson, president of Agricenter International, says he expects the market to stay busy all season long. But even with heavy foot traffic from May through October, he said the farmers market doesn’t always turn a profit. Agricenter hasn’t raised vendor rates in several years in an effort to keep the market profitable for its producers. Agricenter isn’t subsidized by the county, although it has received several government grants in recent years to help with marketing and advertising, he said.

“From a revenue standpoint, you have a lot of wear and tear with the number of people that come through the market,” Wilson said. “We are trying to make it a market that is economically viable for people to sell their goods and to make it a clean market where people want to come that also meets the nutritional needs of the public.”

John Freeman sells produce from Green Frog in Crockett County at the farmers market at the Memphis Botanic Garden. 

During the week, about 22 vendors sell everything from fruits and vegetables to chicken and beef. Wilson says most of the products sold at the market are grown or produced within a 50-mile radius of the Agricenter. On Saturdays, the number of vendors grows to about 34, when many craft vendors come to sell flowers, jewelry, artwork, woodwork and other artisan goods.

Ted Perkins makes two trips a week from the Gulf Coast to Memphis to sell fresh seafood at the market. Oysters, shrimp, crab meat and a variety of fish are put on ice and brought to Memphis fresh from the Gulf all season. Perkins, who is one of the owners of Paradise Seafood, has been making the trips for more than 14 years.

“We stay busy all summer long,” he said. “People love getting the fresh stuff. We’ve been living on the coast all of our lives, and my uncle who lives here thought there would be demand for fresh seafood. We’ve been doing it ever since.”

Paradise Seafood also sells fresh fish at other markets in Memphis, including the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market, the Collierville Farmers Market, and the Memphis Farmers Market Downtown, which kicked off its season Saturday, April 6.

While profit at Agricenter’s Farmer’s Market hasn’t necessarily grown each year, Wilson said the number of vendors and customers continue to expand. The Agricenter has adopted a lottery system to allocate vendor spaces, while giving priority to long-standing vendors.

Regional Market Highlights

The Agricenter’s Farmer’s Market
Monday-Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Season: May to October
Location: Agricenter International 

The Farmers Market at Memphis Botanic Garden
Wednesday: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Season: Late April to October
Location: Memphis Botanic Garden

Memphis Farmers Market
Saturday: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Season: April 6 to October
Location: Central Station Pavilion

Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market
Saturday: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Season: Year-round
Location: First Congregational Church parking lot

Collierville Farmers Market
Thursday: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Season: May 16 to Oct. 17
Location: Collierville United Methodist Church rear parking lot

Whitehaven Farmer’s Market
Monday: Noon to 6 p.m.
Season: April 15 to Nov. 25
Location: In front of the Medical Office Complex, 1251 Wesley Drive

Mark Hoggard, Agricenter’s farmers market manager, says Ripley Tomatoes are an annual customer favorite, as well as vendor stands that sell pecans, blueberries, farm-raised beef and organic foods.

“There is huge demand for fresh, locally grown produce,” he said. “All of our vendors have their own niche.”

Jana Wilson, the market manager for The Farmers Market at the Memphis Botanic Garden says the gardens began holding a farmers market about seven years ago to help connect visitors with what they are eating.

“Our mission is to connect people with nature and to teach people about nature, so this was just one extension of that, which allows us to support agriculture,” she said.

While many local farmers markets are held on the weekend, Wilson said the Memphis Botanic Garden chose Wednesday afternoons for two reasons: the afternoon timing allows vendors to pick produce that morning and bring it to the market for sale on the same day, and the Wednesday time slot gives producers a market for their foods during the week, rather than markets that are only held on weekends.

Wilson said the market, which runs late April through October, is popular with many area chefs, as well as families with young children.

“For farmers markets in general, there has been a huge boom,” she said. “For some people, it’s for health reasons, other shoppers are conscious about shopping local, and some people do it for nostalgic reasons.”

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