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July 07, 2011   Email to Friend 

Savor the Fresh Taste of Summer
Jillian Clair

Greensboro City Councilman Steve Gentry, Chilton County farmer William Crowe and Hale County Farmers Federation President Joe Wilkerson look at Crowe's produce.
At first glance, it seems that in a place where the soil is black and fertile and agriculture is the top employer, fresh fruits and vegetables would be bountiful and readily available.

That was not the case in the tiny Black Belt town of Greensboro, where row crops farms can be scarce and catfish is king.

But that changed when a group of dedicated citizens joined forces with organizations that included the Hale County Farmers Federation. Add to the mix help from the staff of the Auburn University Rural Studio program and residents of Hale County now have access to fresh, Alabama-grown vegetables every Thursday from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Opening day for the Market was June 2, and the community showed up in droves despite the oppressive heat. Shoppers purchased a variety of produce, fresh beef and flowers from the six farmers selling at Greensboro Farmers Market.

"I got to looking around at Greensboro, and we needed some things--fresh produce, something to bring the community together," said Steve Gentry, a Greensboro resident and city council member.

Gentry began a discussion in August about what it would take to bring a farmers market to the community.

In December, the Rural Studio staff joined the effort and began developing a marketing campaign and semi-permanent stands the town could use on the land it rents from a local business owner.

"The challenge to us was to making something that was durable and strong, but you could also move it somewhere else," said Andrew Freear, director of the Rural Studio program.

The end result was a $1,200 14' by 28' structure that can be loaded on the back of a flatbed truck and takes only two days to build. Materials for the project are available at any hardware store, he said.

Freear enjoyed the market's opening day almost as much as the farmers. He watched about 150 people from the area flock to the market and enjoy the entire shopping experience -- starkly different than buying food at the local supermarket chain, he said.

Gentry said even with all the preparations and efforts to let the community know about the market, he didn't expect such a crowd the first day, especially with temperatures peaking in the upper 90s.

Walking around the crowded area on opening day, Gentry and the others involved were pleasantly surprised.

"It's been fantastic," he said. "The first hour, you couldn't hardly park out here, and it's been a steady stream of people ever since. I've been extremely pleased. Based off of what I've seen today, it's very obvious that this is something that has been needed."

A variety of products were available at the market--frozen beef, cucumbers, potatoes, peaches, cabbage, green beans, green tomatoes and even lilies.

William Crowe, a Chilton County farmer from Lawley, brought a variety of produce to the market and sold most of what he had.

"With a market like this, there's always a rush," Crowe said. "When you get here, they want to see what you've got, and they want it immediately. It's really kept me busy today."

Crowe said along with good business, he was impressed by the new stands for the farmers.

"We've got a roof over our head and got a little breeze coming through, so we appreciate that," Crowe said. "Some markets have the tents, and they do all right 'til you have a thunderstorm. I like this setup right here. You don't have to take down--all you have to do is load everything up and go."

Joe Wilkerson, president of the Hale County Farmers Federation, provided free glasses of cold sweet tea to the sweating farmers and attendees.

Wilkerson said he thinks the weekly farmers market will bring the community together as well as provide a good source of revenue for the farmers.

"One of the growers was telling me he was extremely pleased with the first day, and all the vegetables look good," Wilkerson said. "All I see is positive. I think the people that came today are going to go tell their neighbors, 'They've got good produce out there.'"

He said he is also excited about the health benefits for the community.

"I'm just hoping they'll get some healthier, fresh vegetables," Wilkerson said. "People just don't know how much better a fresh vegetable is than going to the grocery store and getting something that's two weeks old by the time they get it."

Bettie Briggins, a Greensboro resident, bought a bag of peaches from Crowe's booth. After a taste test, she said she was surprised at the sweetness of the fresh, Alabama-grown peaches compared with the ones she gets at the grocery store. She was also impressed with the appearance of the market.

"It's beautiful," she said. "Everything looks very attractive."

Betty Jo Ferguson of Greensboro and Bessie Edwards of Moundville strolled from booth to booth, shopping, asking questions about the produce and talking with other visitors.

Ferguson and Edwards were impressed with the bargain price of the produce and the variety that was available for shoppers to buy.

Ferguson said she was delighted to hear Greensboro was getting a farmers market and had been anticipating opening day for weeks. She plans on coming back often.

"I love it," Ferguson said. "I'm really glad we have it."

The social aspect of a farmers market is something Wilkerson said he would like to see develop in Greensboro.

"One week they're going to have tomato sandwich day, and I'm going to ask if I can make a couple tubs of ice cream," Wilkerson said. "I want to get people standing around and talking and visiting--that means a lot."

Gentry spent the day mingling with farmers and talking to customers. He said the unfamiliar sight of so many different people in the community gathered in one place was touching.

"Greensboro needs a way to bring the community together in a social way, and it's been obvious from our opening day that this has occurred," Gentry said. "There has been a wide range of older and younger people and different races that have all been here, and I think this is important to our community.

"Maybe through this, we can feel more like a community--like this community is doing something good, something right."

There is still space available for more farmers to sell, and Gentry said the Rural Studio staff is prepared to build more structures if necessary.

For more information about selling at the Greensboro farmers market, visit TheGreensboroFarmersMarket.com.

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