Some local farmers and customers aren’t happy about changes being made to the Seymour Farmers Market.
But others say more organization and oversight is exactly what is needed to make the market bigger and better.
In the past, the market has always been a drop-in, free-for-all affair where Jackson County vendors could set up and sell produce from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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One day, there might be several farmers with tables and pickups full of produce from which to choose. The next day, there is just one or two.
Scheduled to open May 28 in the Walnut Street Parking Lot, the market now will have limited hours with the biggest focus on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Weekday shopping hours will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays.
Farmers will still be allowed to set up at other times, but not beginning in 2017.
The changes are part of the state-funded Hometown Collaborative Initiative and the grassroots Vision 2025 movement. Both are local efforts being made to improve the Seymour community now and for the future.
Sara Bane, who is leading the Vision 2025 promoting health committee, said having designated hours for the farmers market will help increase the amount and variety of products being sold, which should lead to more customers.
“We did not make changes to the market in haste,” Bane said. “We did our research.”
That research involved the committee visiting around 10 other farmers markets in other communities similar in size to Seymour.
“None of the successful markets that we visited are open six days a week,” she said. “It’s not a good model. Customers don’t know when to shop and don’t know when they can find a consistent amount of food at the market.”
The market also is expanding its “local” territory to include potential vendors in a 60-mile radius around Seymour. That way, there are more possibilities for vendors to offer organic, homegrown products not produced in Jackson County.
“If we, for instance, want peaches at our market, we need to extend our range beyond our county. And honestly, 60 miles is still quite local,” she said. “If buying only Jackson County-grown produce is important to a customer, the customer can look directly at the Market Certificate for each vendor.”
Jackson County vendors will have a special logo on their certificate indicating their items were produced here, she said.
Bane said besides produce, the farmers market is trying to attract meat and egg vendors, local artisans making handcrafted items and some prepared food booths.
Using information gathered from their visits and research, the committee has developed guidelines and a handbook for Seymour Farmers Market vendors to follow.
Using available funds from HCI, the committee also is hiring a market manager, who will work as an employee of the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce.
“These are best practices followed by all successful farmers markets, both large and small,” she said.
Spencer Kindred of Seymour said the changes may not be what people want, especially in a community the size of Seymour.
“This is a horrible idea,” Kindred said. “What is it harming the city to let vendors set up outside of those times? The parking lot they set up in is a public parking lot.”
He said by limiting the hours and by allowing “outside” vendors to set up, produce may not be as fresh or as local as customers would like.
“If people set up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, that means the produce was probably picked Sunday or Monday and Thursday. Right now, it’s picked the night before or morning of,” he said. “If the farmer has to pick it before it rots, then they are going to either be out money or you’re not going to get fresh produce.”
Kathryn Jarvis of Seymour does a lot of gardening and said vegetables will not last for just two market days.
“The vegetables will not wait until Saturday or Wednesday if they are ready to be sold on Monday,” she said. “I like the daily hours and letting any local farmer come in on a first-come, first-serve basis.”
She thinks the Wednesday and Saturday hours could still be promoted as “bigger” farmers market events, with arts and crafts, food booths and live music.
Several farmers already have backed out of registering for the farmers market this year, Kindred said.
Kindred said he used to set up at the market but now just helps his grandparents with their booth.
“Seymour is not ready for a market like this,” he said of the proposed changes. “Bigger markets do run like this, but we are talking about a small-town market where a lot of the community doesn’t stop.”
Although there may be some who don’t agree with the changes, Bane said there are others who believe it will work.
So far, 10 new vendors, who haven’t sold at the Seymour market in the past, have registered, all being from Jackson County. Several returning vendors also have registered.
“We are still accepting vendor registration, and we expect to see growth compared to years past,” she said.
Nathan Otte of Seymour helped start Vision 2025 group and said he plans to use the farmers market more because of the changes.
“This is going to be a great thing for Seymour,” he said. “All successful markets have regular hours. I’m planning to make the Saturday market part of my weekly routine. This will definitely help attract a wider variety of vendors to make it worth my time to stop.”
Tonja Couch, also a founding member of Vision 2025, said she, too, is excited about having more vendors and a wider variety of items available.
“I think the set hours are a great thing and will build the farmers market into a destination place where families visit with one another,” she said.
She also thinks it could help launch a new business or entrepreneur interested in getting their product in the hands of consumers.
Bane said it’s never easy to make or accept changes, but she believes it will be in the best interest of everyone involved.
“We think focusing on improving the market is a positive thing for our producers, for the health of our community and for the revitalization of our downtown,” she said.
Vendor registration fee for the entire 2016 season: $20
Rookie (age 17 or younger) registration fee: Free
Market season: Last weekend in May through last weekend in October
Hours: Wednesdays 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Questions: Contact Sara Bane at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-521-1050