Walker County, and the surrounding counties of northwest Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee are experiencing rapid urban and suburban growth. Even though the area is still primarily rural, commercial and residential developments are steadily converting farmland to non-farmland uses. These changes are affecting the livelihood of agricultural communities and requiring farmers to make adjustments to maintain their way of life.
The Walker County Young Farmers Association recognized the land-use problem and identified an opportunity to help sustain farm communities. Through the establishment of a regional, tri-state “locally grown farmers market”, an outlet was created to market locally grown crops, educate growers on sustainable farming practices, identify important environmental issues, and provide outreach to citizens on nutrition and fresh foods.
The Walker County Young Farmers have been very successful in implementing The Battlefield Farmers’ Market-Growing New Opportunities SARE grant project. During the first two years of existence, the market has grown to over 40 vendors, attracted numerous local and regional consumers, and expanded from a weekly market to a twice a week market.
The market has been and will continue to be an asset to the local and surrounding communities. It provides additional income for growers, high quality food products for citizens, and a venue for rural and urban communities to interact.
Like other areas in the southeast, Walker County, Georgia and the surrounding counties in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee are experiencing increased urban and suburban growth. Residential development pressures are driving up land prices and contributing to the conversion of rural farmland to subdivisions. As land prices increase, so do property taxes. Often families are unable to justify continually managing their land as farms due to taxation. This results in the splitting-up of larger tracts into mini-farms or the total conversion of farms to subdivisions.
As the clear lines between agricultural properties and urban/suburban properties disappear, additional pressures are being placed on farm families due to complaints about air quality, water quality, and noise pollution from surrounding homeowners.
The existing land use changes and predicted changes for the future, agricultural communities will have to make adjustments to maintain their way of life. These adjustments probably will consist of farming smaller tracts, planting crops for local consumption instead of broad scale production, monitoring food product trends by local consumers in order to grow the right crops, farming more environmentally to meet public expectations, and becoming a natural resource advocate for the farming community.
The objectives of this project are to:
1. Improve farm income – Market provides an outlet for farm families to market products such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, meats, live plants, crafts, and other value added products. By selling locally, growers stand to improve their profit margin by removing ”the middle man” and get retail-like prices for their products.
2. Promote sustainable agricultural practices – Through workshops, provide education to consumers on land stewardship, conservation, low impact farming practices, and the benefits of eating fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Through the establishment of the market, educate growers on sustainable agricultural practices that protect air and water quality by reducing traditional chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
3. Connect agricultural and non-agricultural communities – Market provides a venue for interaction between farm and non-farm communities and serves to foster an environment of mutual respect for both communities.
The Walker County Young Farmers held two organization meetings in order to determine interest and to begin the planning process for a farmers market. After the meeting, the Young Farmers organization conducted an informal survey and found that approximately 40 growers were interested in participating in the market.
Next the group invited a manager from an adjacent market area to make a presentation at a public meeting. Approximately 50 farmers, civic leaders, agricultural agency representatives, and interested citizens attended the meeting. The presentation included methods of governing a market such as the establishment of a steering committee, creation of by-laws, legal requirements for selling products at a market, and marketing techniques for a successful market.
After the meeting, a steering committee was selected from local farmers and the geographic area that will support the market was established. The Walker County Agricultural Center and grounds were offered by the Commission and will serve as the location for the market.
The following are additional methods of establishment that were utilized after receiving funding through the SARE grant:
1. Developed By-Laws
2. Established a market board from steering committee
3. Obtained incorporation
4. Developed an effective marketing campaign (website, TV, postcard, signage, newspaper articles, etc.)
5. Hired a market manager
6. Held orientation and marketing workshops
7. Coordinated with other locally grown markets in nearby areas
8. Conducted outreach to minority growers and consumers
The establishment of the Battlefield Farmers’ Market has created interest and excitement in the area. New growers continue to contact the board about selling at the market and consumers continue to buyout most of the products before the market closes each week.
Local and county governments in the area have expressed satisfaction with the establishment of the market and have offered help in making the market a success. Newspapers from participating counties have written favorable articles about the market. Additionally, several board members and the market manager have made presentations promoting the market on local television stations.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Initially, the market board developed a Powerpoint presentation to familiarize growers and promote the market at workshops. A full marketing campaign was then developed that included signage, newspaper articles, a weekly television program, postcards, a message board identifying next weeks (or upcoming ) products, and a website.
As part of the outreach plan, the market manager made numerous presentations to groups and attended various workshops to attract new buyers and sellers for the market. Emphasis was placed on diversifying products and participants.
Additional workshops were also held to educate growers on sustainable agricultural practices, displaying their products for greater profitability, and promoting value added products.
The market got off to a slow start in 2005 due to late frosts in the area. This resulted in delaying the opening from mid May to mid June. Eight vendors were present for opening weekend but grew to 22 by the last weekend in early October.
As the result of a very effective marketing campaign, the market initially had more buyers than suppliers. A decision was made to allow the market manager to concentrate on outreach to new vendors in order to meet the demand for agricultural products. Several workshops were held to encourage greater participation from growers in the area. Numerous new vendors indicated that they plan to sell at the market in 2006 instead of traveling greater distances to sell at other markets.
In 2006, the market had a great year and grew from 22 vendors to over 40. It also expanded from being open one day a week to two. A diversity of products and consumers improved profitability for the market.
The establishment of the farmers market has provided income for small and limited resource growers in the area. Local citizens now have a good source of nutritious, fresh, locally grown products at a fair market price. As a result of this small business enterprise, a portion of consumer dollars spent for food products now remains in the area.
At a recent Young Farmers meeting, all vendors that sold products at the market in 2005 and 2006 have indicated that they will return in 2007. Additionally, many new vendors are interested in utilizing the Battlefield Market because of the general location, facility, market track record, variety of products, and number of possible consumers.
The community has been overwhelming in supporting the market. Vendors have had a difficult time meeting the demand for fresh produce by consumers. The Board is working hard to attract new producers to meet the needs of the community.
The market board is seeking additional funding to help sustain the market for the next two years. The funds will be used to cover the market manager’s salary as well as hiring an associate manager.