Growing demand

The demand for fresh local food and support for local producers from residents is growing in the Seymour area.

As the 2016 season soon begins for the Seymour Area Farmers Market, we hope gradual changes and restructuring will make a better market that benefits both producers and consumers.

We did not make changes to the market in haste. We did our research. We visited nine farmer’s markets in Indiana in towns that are similar in size to Seymour.

We talked to their market managers and their vendors, and we looked closely at their handbooks to see what is working best for other successful markets. It’s also important to note that we didn’t just invent the idea of set hours or the guidelines found in our handbook. These are best practices followed by all successful farmers markets regardless of size.

We consulted with experts in the Purdue local foods program and received advice from the Hoosier Farmers Market Association. We listened to the Seymour community at the HCI Community Forum in May 2015 and saw survey information that pointed to our downtown needing a destination.

More than a third of our committee members are producers, and five of them grow produce (as opposed to meat or eggs) and understand that items are perishable. Their voices were very important during the writing of the market handbook.

Our committee and the market fall under the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has pledged full support to the committee and its efforts to enhance and grow the market. The Farmers Market committee has the best intentions in mind for the market and the community.

As we listened to community members, visited other markets, studied best practices and spoke with Jackson County producers (some of whom are selling at markets outside of our county as opposed to selling at the Seymour market), the main concern that kept rising to the surface was the lack of set market hours.

Of the nine markets we surveyed in our area, six of those markets are open one day per week, two of those markets are open two days a week, and one of the markets is open three days per week.

If customers don’t know when a consistent amount of vendors will be present at the market, they are less likely to attend the market. Vendors have always asked for more advertising for the market. If there aren’t set hours for the market, it makes it even more challenging to advertise the market.

As part of the 2016 transition plan, we still allow registered vendors to use the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday market hours as they have existed in the past, but we encourage vendors to be present during the advertised Wednesday and Saturday hours.

This year will serve as a trial period to see if set hours are beneficial. We will need customer and vendor feedback throughout the season. We will be asking vendors to anonymously submit sales information to establish a baseline for tracking market growth. At the end of the season, we will use feedback and data collected throughout the season to determine what days/hours are best for all involved for the 2017 season.

We know that holding produce is also a concern, and Purdue Extension has offered advice and help for this concern. Support for preserving produce from one market day to the next was offered at the vendor meeting, and there are options available that are cost-effective.

We are also working to connect our growers with local restaurants and groups that want to buy local food. We’ve already made a handful of connections and our committee will continue to develop this program as part of our Vision 2025 plan of improving our local foods system.

As far as the 60 mile radius rule goes — this is not new. No guideline was specified in past rules, and we have had vendors from outside Jackson County in the past.

Actually, when we initially drafted the handbook, we set the radius at 100 miles. After listening to local producers, however, we reduced that radius to 60 miles.

As we are growing the market, we think it’s important to allow vendors from outside Jackson County. Maybe some day we will have enough Jackson County vendors we have to change this rule (and only allow vendors from within our county), but for now it’s a good way to increase the variety of products available at the market. And honestly, 60 miles is still quite local. Jackson County producers will have a special logo on their market certificate that will alert customers to produce grown within our county.

We’ve heard a lot of people say that no harm will be done if we allow farmers to use the lot at anytime, while still advertising the set Wednesday and Saturday hours.

Reselling of produce (vendors selling produce they bought at a grocery store or did not grow themselves) has been a concern voiced by some producers at the Seymour market in the past. A paid market manager will be present during set market hours to help with issues like reselling.

If we continue to allow vendors to use the lot during nonmarket manager hours, reselling is an issue that can’t be controlled. Protecting the integrity of the market from resellers is important, most especially to our true farmers. Farmers shouldn’t have to compete with vendors who are reselling produce purchased at the grocery store or not grown by the vendor him/herself.

After our vendor meeting last week, we registered 10 vendors who haven’t sold at our market in the past. All 10 are Jackson County producers. We also have registered returning vendors, and their feedback has been positive. The community needs to the hear the positive voices of the vendors who are excited for a more structured market.

Those voices exist, and we are excited to have registered local producers who are returning to the market after unsuccessful tries in the past.

Change is hard — we certainly acknowledge that. Our committee has worked diligently to ensure these are the best decisions for all 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.

Sara Bane is a Seymour High School teacher and the leader of the Vision 2025 Promoting Health Committee.

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