When those six farmers garnered the City's blessing and set up for business in an empty parking lot in downtown Staunton way back in 1993, they were showing amazing foresight.
Who would have thought that by 2015 there would be 8,476 farmers’ markets in the US?
And, who would have thought that our little market in our little town would be one of the pioneers of the food movement that has taken the country by storm?
Farmers’ Markets have become THE way to get fresh farm products, THE way to “Know your Farmer, Know your Food”, THE way to support the local agricultural economy…and Staunton is leading the way. The Staunton Market has served as a model for a number of Markets in other locations. I love that I can be a part of this trend to help folks get to know more about the food they eat and the people who produce it. In addition to local food, the market encourages local talent and hosts various musical and entertainment groups throughout the season.
With all the emphasis today on local food and the desire to trace food from farm to fork…the Farmers’ Market proves to be the very best model for getting that freshness to the public. One of the basic tenets of our Market is to restore that connection between farmer and consumer. The very rules of the market state: The Staunton Farmers’ Market was founded on the concepts of local food production, promotion of family farming and direct marketing of farm products while providing the community access to the best our producers have to offer in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Staunton Market is that it is a PRODUCER ONLY Market. This means that everything offered for sale at the Market has been produced by the vendor selling it. There is no buying of produce from other sources and re-selling it. In addition, there is a requirement that all vendors produce within a 75-mile radius of the Market. This assures you, the customer, that everything is truly LOCAL.
For the record, local is one of those food buzzwords does not mean what you think it might. According to governmental guidelines, anything up to 400 miles can be marketed as local. Our Market committee felt it imperative to have a distinct boundary to grant the customers peace of mind. That 75-mile limit does just that while assuring a good variety of products.
Did you know that it is estimated that the average American meal travels approximately 1500 miles prior to consumption? Some items travel even further. For example, the majority of lamb sold in this country has traveled 10,000 miles to the grocery. That is definitely NOT the case with anything from the Staunton Farmers’ Market. And, I am confident that customers can indeed tell the difference. You simply cannot get the sort of fresh quality from the grocery store, no matter what the label may say.
By shopping the Market, you get truly local food, often picked within hours of sale, directly from the grower who is fully vested in assuring that you have a satisfactory shopping experience. It truly is a win-win proposition. And speaking personally, this interaction can lead to long-term friendships and year-round business opportunities.
After 18 seasons as a Market vendor, I can attest to the fact that growing farm products and selling them directly to the public is a great way to make a living. As a vendor, I do indeed have the customers’ best interests at heart in every choice I make when it comes to the crops we grow, in part because these folks are my friends and neighbors. And, I have made it my mission to become educated about the issues surrounding food and its production. That education is a vital part of being a market vendor.
However, quite honestly, it was never our intention to become farmers’ market vendors. When we moved to the Valley in 1996, it was with a very different vision for our lives. But, when our plans were irrevocably changed in early 1997, we found ourselves re-locating to a small piece of land in Middlebrook and in desperate need of re-inventing our lives. Looking to provide a stable environment for our children and food for our own table, we took advantage of the opportunity to utilize our past experience with growing our own food and expand into small-scale agriculture. Then, acting on the advice of friends who were already market vendors, we joined the Market in 1998. From that very first week when we sold out, making a whopping $66.50, we felt we had found our true calling.
We have seen dramatic changes in the Market, the City and the clientele over the past 18 seasons.
Years ago, it was difficult, if not impossible to move some of the more unusual items at the Market. More than once I heard someone mutter, “ain’t seen nothin’ like THAT before!” Today, we find that often our customers and local chefs are looking for new and exotic items and have interesting ideas as to how to prepare them. The numbers of shoppers at the Market has grown exponentially.
And, as our customers can attest, we’ve done a fair amount of changing ourselves. When we started doing the Market, I baked bread and we sold a few vegetables. After 10 years and approximately 15 thousand loaves (seriously), I finally hung up my potholders and we began to concentrate on vegetable production. Our product line has evolved over time, today we sell lamb, chicken and eggs as well. Our children have grown and flown and we are now visited at the Market by the next generation. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of our daughters is a Market vendor in her own right. And, I am thankful to say that our totals have greatly increased as well!
Over the years, the Staunton Market has brought a great deal of revenue to the City, making over $450,000 last year alone, while providing the very best local produce to the townspeople…and making it possible for folks like us to make a living doing what we love. The folks who come downtown to shop at the Market bring revenue to the other businesses as well. I do believe that the vibrant downtown atmosphere is due in part to the Staunton Farmers’ Market.
In an effort to make the fresh produce offerings of the market available to more folks, the Staunton Farmers Market became participants in the SNAP program in 2014. There are also a number of vendors who participate in the WIC and Senior Nutrition programs during the summer months in an effort to get produce to those children and seniors who may not otherwise have opportunity to eat fresh and local.
In 2015, Trinity Episcopal began a gleaning program to utilize excess farm products in their hot lunch program. This allows even more folks to get fresh, local produce on a somewhat regular basis. Read about that here.
|pupusas at the Market|
The Market offers the mainstays of produce, meat, eggs and baked goods. There are a variety of jellies, mushrooms and cheeses. You can get a piping hot pupusa or a sandwich made from locally-grown beef or pork. You can find healthy foods and sweet indulgences. Twice a month, a fresh fish vendor comes up from Bedford. There are hand-crafted soaps and healing lotions, fresh flowers and bedding plants, just to mention a few things. And, then there is the live entertainment and the meeting of friends...
Personally, I think that any Farmers’ Market, but our Staunton Market in particular, is the very best way to purchase fresh, local food. Not only do you, as the shopper, have a chance to meet the producer, you also get to pick exactly what items you would like to purchase. You have the option of shopping with different growers for different products. There’s also a pretty good chance that the vendor will give you recipe ideas and insights on storage. There is a sense of family and community at the Market that you won’t find elsewhere.
This is relationship marketing and farm to fork food sourcing in the truest sense.
…and it's a pretty good way to spend a Saturday morning!
Thanks to the Boss for the use of his outstanding images.
Want to see more photos from our amazing Market? Click HERE!