Matt Fleming (left), of Hayden Grove Farms, assists customers buying fruit at the Henry County Farmers Market. The market is scheduled to be open in McDonough, on Thursdays, and in Hampton, on Fridays.
By Jason A. Smith
Local farmers are preparing to bring their fruits and vegetables to sell in Henry County, for the second straight year.
The Henry County Farmers Market is scheduled to be open through September, from 2 p.m., to 6 p.m. -- on Thursdays at Heritage Park in McDonough, and on Fridays, at the Hampton Train Depot.
The market is sponsored by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in McDonough, and the Henry County 4-H club.
Sixteen farmers have signed up to bring their items, which also include jams, jellies and baked goods, to the market, according to Frank Hancock, the extension office's agriculture and natural resource agent.
"The whole purpose of this market is to give farmers a place to sell their stuff locally," he said. "If we can develop markets in the county for our local farmers, so they can sell here on Thursday, their produce is still fresh on Friday. So, what we're growing here in Henry County can stay here in Henry County, for the local residents."
Providing a venue for local farmers to sell their goods seems to appeal to a growing number of residents in Henry as a more economical way to buy food, said Hancock. Another reason for the market's popularity, the agent added, is due to food recalls across the country in recent years.
"With E. coli being in the lettuce, and other problems they've had with food processing, and that sort of thing, a lot of people are focusing on locally grown food, so they can have some control over how it's been handled, and how it's processed," Hancock said.
He said the market, in 2009, had a successful first year in McDonough, as 5,540 patrons visited a total of 38 vendors at the facility, from May through September.
"The response that we've had from customers has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "Obviously, everybody doesn't find what they want when they come, but I think the majority do. So we have a lot of repeat customers."
Hancock anticipates the market's busiest time will be in June and July, when the majority of fruits and vegetables will be ripe. He is hopeful farmers and customers from Hampton and nearby areas, will come to the Train Depot on Fridays, for the city's first year hosting the Farmers Market.
One key to the market's success, he said, is to have a "balance" in participation from farmers and the public. "If you advertise in the newspaper and bring in 500 customers, and you've got 100 customers' worth of stuff to sell, 400 of those folks are not going to come back," Hancock said. "If I bring in 20 vendors, and I have enough customers for five vendors, then the vendors are not going to come back. If a balance can be maintained, then the Farmer's Market can exist for a long time."
In addition to the food which will be sold at the market, classes will be offered for novice farmers on how to properly store their items, said Susan Howington, coordinator for the extension office. She said a home-canning class will mirror a recent "Lunch and Learn" seminar at her office, addressing the difference between a water-bath canner and a pressure canner.
"A lot of people are afraid of a pressure canner, so I really want to use it so that people can see that it's an easy tool to use, and it's not going to blow up on them, if they do it correctly," Howington said. "My other goal is to, hopefully, have some cooking demonstrations ... and [they can] then go home to incorporate better nutrition for their families."
For more information, call the Extension Office, at (770) 288-8421.