Producing Growth

Organizers say Farmers Market blooming in downtown Jonesboro

Only a handful of local produce vendors sold vegetables, jams and plants Tuesday, at the University of Georgia Clayton County Extension Service’s Farmers Market in downtown Jonesboro. But, the sellers and market organizers said looks can be deceiving, adding the market has been more successful in its first year in a new location than it may appear.

After years of holding the market at the extension service’s offices, tucked away on Government Circle, in northern Jonesboro, officials from the service worked with representatives from the City of Jonesboro to move it to a parking lot in the heart of the town this year. The result, according to Extension Service Agent Tom Bonnell, is more vendors, and more sellers coming to the market.

Bonnell, who overseas the market, said he has been “overly happy with the success” of this year’s market, which is held every Saturday and Tuesday, across the street from the Jonesboro Fire House Museum and Community Center, at 103 West Mill Street, in Jonesboro.

“It’s been tremendously successful,” he said, as he reviewed vendor participation records at the market Tuesday. He attributed the market’s growth to the move to a highly visible location, in a city-owned parking lot in downtown Jonesboro. “Location, location, location. What else can you say?”

Bonnell said vendor participation in the Farmers Market peaked on Aug. 13, when 11 local produce sellers showed up to sell their vegetables. That is nearly double last year’s highest single-day participation record of six vendors, when the market was held at the extension service, he said.

In fact, Bonnell said last year’s participation record has been exceeded a total of five times since the market opened for the 2011 season on June 25. “We’ve had a lot more vendors this year,” he said.

Many of the vendors who were selling their wares at the market Tuesday said the market’s growth has been noticeable since its move. Those sellers each said they have been participating in the market for years.

Riverdale resident Lillie Golden, who was selling potted plants, said “there is no comparison whatsoever” between the number of people who came to the buy items at the market in past years, and the number of people who have been shopping at it this year. She said, on average, “30, to 40” shoppers have been stopping by her booth this year, which is “much higher” than the average number she saw in past years.

“It has been fantastic [this year],” Golden said. “The only issue we’ve noticed is this month has been slower than last month, and we attribute that to school being back in session now.”

Jonesboro-based vendor Esther Worthington, who sells cantaloupes, and various types of peppers at the market, added “It’s been better this year ... We’ve had the same amount of produce, but more people coming through.”

Golden and Fairburn-based vendor Gail Irvin said they have seen many new customers this year, adding many of the new clientele have been “drive-bys” who traveled on West Mill Street, saw the tents sent up for market vendors, and stopped by out of curiosity. “We’ve seen a lot of new customers this year,” Irvin said.

Bonnell said business has been highest on Saturdays, when many residents in nearby neighborhoods come out to buy vegetables. But, he added Tuesday sessions, which are done for the benefit of people who work for the county, city or businesses surrounding the market location, have also been popular.

“We’ve been getting almost as many people on Tuesdays as we do on Saturdays,” he said. “That surprised us, because we always thought Saturdays would be bigger.”

As she finished shopping at the market, Jonesboro resident Gail Hunter said it should come as no surprise that the market has grown this year. She echoed Bonnell’s sentiments that the location change has been beneficial to the market. “It’s because of the location, I think,” she said. “It’s been very effective in drawing attention.”

Bonnell said the market is intended to last through September, as vendors run out of items in their gardens, but he added he would like to see the market last until later in the fall, in the future.

He said continued growth in the market’s popularity could help him reach that goal, by encouraging more vendors to plant a second round of warm-weather vegetables (such as tomatoes and pepper), or drawing in people who plant colder-weather vegetables (such as collard greens, cabbage and carrots).

Bonnell said he is already expecting more growth to come next year.

“It’ll be bigger,” he said. “They [vendors and other gardeners] have seen it, and they want to be a part of it, so next year, they’ll grow more [vegetables], so they can sell more.”

The market runs Saturdays, from 8 a.m., to noon, and Tuesdays, from 11 a.m., to 1 p.m.