Spring still may be 55 days away, but planning has begun for this year’s Seymour Area Farmers Market.
An information meeting and registration for vendors will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour. Deadline to register as a vendor is April 7.
Hours for the market, located in the Walnut Street parking lot, have been adjusted so it will open earlier in May to accommodate vendors with early season produce, such as strawberries and asparagus. The market also will be open an additional day from 2 to 6 p.m. Mondays and 8 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The changes were proposed after information was collected from vendors and customers during the 2016 season, said Sara Bane, chairwoman of the farmers market committee.
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“Throughout the season, we formally polled vendors twice and also polled the public at the market on two occasions,” she said. “In December, we met with current vendors and had an open discussion about the hours so we could land on common ground.”
The farmers market committee formed last year to revamp the market and made several organizational changes, including hiring a market manager, opening the market up to more vendors and limiting the hours and days people could sell their produce.
“We worked to find days and times that were suitable for as many vendors as possible,” Bane said. “Vendor and customer feedback is so important in making these decisions.”
Bane said both vendors and customers suggested adding a weekday morning to the market’s hours.
Although some vendors weren’t happy with the restrictions and opted out of selling last year, several new vendors came on board, offering new products, including organic lettuce and herbs, fresh meat and eggs, flour, baked bread, local honey and cheese made from locally produced milk.
“We received lots of positive feedback regarding the variety of products available and the friendliness and helpfulness of vendors,” Bane said.
The farmers market committee added a book wagon where customers could purchase used books for $1 and children received a free book for each visit. Profits from the book wagon were shared by the market and the Friends of the Jackson County Public Library.
There were several Saturdays where hot prepared food, including breakfast burritos and sandwiches, was available along with live music, crafts and activities for children and outdoor fitness and cooking demonstrations.
To increase customers, the committee also handed out Sprout Bucks to children to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and began accepting SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
“We are excited to offer SNAP in order to bring fresh and healthy food options to our community members, regardless of income,” Bane said.
Bane said on one Saturday mid-summer, there were more than 800 customers at the market.
“Although we don’t have data to pull from previous years, we feel this has to be an increase in customer attendance,” she said.
Customer Beth Veatch of Seymour said she and her family visited the market more because of the changes that were implemented.
“The enhancements to the farmers market were fantastic,” she said. “We loved going on Saturday mornings as a family. One of the things that amazed me was how many wonderful foods and products are produced right here in Jackson County.
“It’s very satisfying to enjoy products and support businesses that are local,” she added. “I look forward to what this season brings.”
The addition of Celeste Bowman, a farmer and longtime vendor, as the paid market manager was an essential piece in organizing, restructuring and improving the market, Bane said.
“There are so many things going on behind the scenes that many people don’t see,” Bane said.
The market continues to receive some funding from the Hometown Collaboration Initiative grant and is applying for a USDA Farmers Market grant. Income also is generated through vendor registration fees, which range from $30 for limited time sellers to $60 for the full market season through the end of October.
“We will continue to seek out grants and outside funding so that we can keep vendor fees as affordable as possible while also growing the market,” Bane said.
Customer Ann Tormoehlen said the set market hours are what encouraged her to stop more frequently.
“I loved knowing exactly when and what vendors would be present,” she said. “The old farmers market was always a guessing game.”
Vendor Sheryl Burke, who makes and sells organic dog treats, said she still doesn’t feel like the farmers market receives enough publicity in the community.
“Last year, when we mentioned to different people about participating in the market, we had several people who didn’t even know we had a market,” she said.
But she still feels last year was successful.
“I feel the market definitely enhances our community,” she said.
What: Seymour Area Farmers Market vendor information meeting and registration
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Jackson County Public Library, 303 W. Second St., Seymour
Vendor applications are available through the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce website at seymourchamber.com.