The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

June 24, 2012

Rethinking the Farmers Market: Are we missing opportunities?


The News Courier

— The sign on the pavilion across the street from The News Courier offices on Green Street proudly proclaims “Farmers Market.” The homey, unassuming stalls are the type found in many small towns, where farmers and vendors of homemade goods can sell their wares and produce.

But this “farmers” market — which is used to raise money to fund Council on Aging programs — allows vendors to sell all types of household items.

Recently, Limestone County Commissioner Gary Daly said sale of these items violates city regulations requiring businesses to remit county and city sales taxes. Produce and homemade goods are exempt from that rule. He added that the inclusion of the yard-sale items discourages more growers from participating.

It is unclear whether these “yard sale” vendors are “breaking the law,” as Daly stated, but we agree with Daly on the second point. It is time someone addressed the possibilities being overlooked with the Farmers Market.

We are wasting two wonderful opportunities: to provide a place for farmers, bakers and crafters to market their items and to create an attraction that would lure visitors downtown.

Limestone County already has a place that provides booths for those selling inexpensive items in bulk — it’s called a flea market.

A farmers market should be a gathering place for people interested in purchasing fresh foods and baked goods, and in supporting local farmers.

Farmers markets in Ardmore and Madison follow the premise on which our market was initially founded: Promoting the sale of locally grown produce and vendor produced goods such as honey, syrup, jams, jellies, breads, pastries, eggs and cheeses.

William Wise, who oversees the local market, said 15 of the 28 spaces are set aside for farmers and those spaces are only filled in peak season. He said stopping flea-market type vending would “kill” the market.

We believe it is a matter of marketing the market.

As Athens grows into an enclave for artists of all types — sculptors, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, the list goes on — we are learning how many truly talented people we have in our community. Perhaps if the market were advertised as a place where talented bakers, canners, quilters and others could sell items, it could be converted into a place that benefits vendors while also attracting visitors.

Several groups in Limestone County are doing a great job of rethinking our image and the direction of our tourism marketing.

Why not give the Farmers Market another thought, too?