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Farmers market provides fresh food, economic boost

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Nancy Eddins, of Rex, came to the Henry County Farmers Market Thursday in search of fresh fruits and vegetables. She has been at the market every week since it opened, in May, because she enjoys locally grown produce.

"I like knowing where the fruits and vegetables are coming from, and knowing that they didn't have to go from California, to here and back," she said. "I don't like eating fruits and vegetables that have to take a country-wide trip before I get to eat them."

The market is open from 2 p.m., to 6 p.m., on Thursdays, at Heritage Park in McDonough, and on Fridays at the Hampton Train Depot.

Eddins' husband, Tom, accompanied his wife to the market Thursday, with his eyes on an array of tomatoes being sold by one of 15 vendors. He said he is able to find items at the market that he cannot get at home.

"We don't have a lot of stuff on our property, as far as growing our own," he said. "This is my chance to get some home-grown tomato sandwiches a lot quicker. During the summer, I could live in a garden with a salt shaker."

Frank Hancock, agriculture and natural resource agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in McDonough, oversees activities at the market. Hancock said the market provides a way for area residents to show their support for local farmers.

"These guys are growing their own food, picking it and bringing it to the market," he said. "It's not being hauled all over the country to get here. So people who come have confidence in the people who are growing their food. They get fresh food, and they also can meet the people that's been handling it. Food safety becomes less of an issue in an environment like this."

Hancock added that children in the county's 4-H program have become involved in the market as well, by giving presentations on healthy foods and exercise.

Approximately 400 customers, he said, have come to the market each week in McDonough, since it opened. Organizers of the event have had less traffic at the market in Hampton, as a total of 300 customers have come to the Depot to purchase items, Hancock said.

"It's been a little slow," he said. "It's an outside market, it's hotter and it's been rained out a couple of times, so it's a little bit different environment. But we're trying to get it going. We haven't given up on it. If it's going to stay there, it's going to have to have customers."

C.D. Gray, a vendor for the second straight year, who sells okra, cucumbers and tomatoes that he grows at home, said customers are continuing to respond well to the items he offers.

"They know it's locally grown, and it's fresh," he said. "We get a lot of repeat customers here. They keep coming back."

Another second-year vendor, who manned a table at the market Thursday, was Henry County Sheriff's Deputy Bobby Floyd. He sold pies, cookies, brownies, jams and jellies, which were made by his wife, Diane. "Everything here is homemade," Floyd said. "All the stuff comes from her grandmother's and great-grandmother's recipes."

The deputy added that the market enables him, in tough economic times, to engage in a profitable side business.

Ashley Yeck, who moved to McDonough from Nebraska last week, came to the market for the first time Thursday. She gave a glowing review of apple pie jam, given to her moments before by Bobby Floyd. "The jam was pretty awesome, actually," said Yeck. "It tastes like apple pie."

Yeck added that she hopes to bring her children to the market, to teach them to enjoy home-grown vegetables.

"My kids don't eat a lot of vegetables, so I think with something like this, I could get them to come with me and see what's here, and, maybe, they'll get more into it," she said.

Javier Pineiro, of Locust Grove, bought a rosemary plant Thursday, in his first visit to the market. He said he sees the market as a positive development for McDonough.

"I think it's great that the city's promoting our local farmers, and giving farmers an opportunity to boost the economy," he said. "I wish there were more people involved in this. It would make it better for the economy, and for the community, to get together and help each other out."