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VOL. 125 | NO. 242 | Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Memphis Farmers Market Plans $400K Expansion

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Farmers usually wait until spring to start digging, but on Saturday the Memphis Farmers Market broke ground on an expansion that will mean more local produce in the coming year.

Organizers of the market said that a new canopy structure added to the Central Station property will add badly needed shelter and a sense of permanence.

The Memphis Farmers Market, an all-volunteer 501(c)(4) organization being incubated by the Center City Development Corp., has been gaining about 20 percent in patron attendance each year since May of 2006, when it first opened.

The market is open 31 Saturdays April through October from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and is held under an arching pavilion to the west of Central Station’s main building at G.E. Patterson Avenue and Main Street.

But since its opening, more than a dozen overflow vendors had to set up in an unshaded section of the parking lot.

“Just don’t move,” said Davy Funderburk, co-owner of Funder Farm in Coldwater, Miss., describing his plan for getting through hot days on the parking lot. Funder Farm mills grain for flour, baking mixes and oats.

“We had a tent, so that helped, and we would try to stay close together with the other tents so that the sun would only come into the last person’s tent,” said Funderburk. “(The new canopy) will mean a lot less set-up and tear-down for me, and it’ll feel more official.”

Still he had a sense that patrons were less likely to linger and ask questions about his products because of the heat.

Beth Brock, president of MFM, said the market has nearly 3,000 patrons each Saturday, so even though it wasn’t ideal, vendors were willing to be out there.

“When it’s 100 degrees on asphalt or it’s raining, it makes a huge difference for patrons and the farmers,” Brock said.

The new section of canopy, which market organizers call “the T,” will extend west perpendicularly from the existing canopy, which runs north to south, making room for about 16 more vendors.

The entire project will cost about $400,000: $100,000 from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; $65,000 from the Hyde Family Foundation; and the rest raised by the market through events and individual donations.

“This is actually the largest capital improvement grant that the Tennessee Department of Agriculture has ever awarded,” said Susan Kitsinger, board member of MFM.

Architect Dianne Dixon, who is a founder of MFM, and Clark Dixon Architects donated architectural services in-kind for the expansion, and Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC will handle the 20-week construction.

The Memphis Area Transit Authority, which owns the land and pavilion used by the market, will also benefit from the addition.

“It will create additional covered parking spaces for MATA, which is wonderful because it creates handicap accessibility,” said Kitsinger.

Perhaps equally important is the sense of future solidity created by the project.

“It will make the market look more permanent and substantial,” said Melissa Petersen, editor of Edible Memphis Magazine and local food proponent. “Anything that helps draw our local farmers in to bring us more local, fresh, healthy food is a good thing.”

Kitsinger said that 65 vendors sell their wares each Saturday and 65,000 patrons attended last year.

On Saturday, a group of dignitaries including Laura Fortune, director of marketing for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; state Rep. Barbara Cooper; and Will Hudson, CEO of MATA, did a symbolic groundbreaking by shoveling into a row of sod that had been brought under the existing canopy due to rain.

“Focusing on the capital expansion has been huge, so in 2011 we’re going to focus on how to enrich the market through partnerships, community development and health education,” said Brock.

“The one thing that we want people to understand is that even though we’re not actively fundraising for the capital expansion anymore, it’s never over. Every year it takes about $108,000 just to run the market so we’re fundraising every year.”

The new canopy is slated to be finished by opening of the market in April.

MORTGAGES 80 320 1,066
BUILDING PERMITS 120 590 2,248