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Henry Farmers Market enters third season

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The aroma of fresh fruits, vegetables and honey filled the air in McDonough, as a growing tradition kicked off another season at the Henry County Farmers Market.

Lynn Batchelor, of Newnan, has been a fixture at the market since its inception, and was selling Wally Bee's Honey there Thursday.

"We know that honey works," she said. "People want local honey for allergies, and we have that. We all have the same flowers and trees, and everything in bloom, and that's what helps to build your immune system. People really use it, and it really works."

Batchelor said she appreciates the variety of items available at the market, and encouraged area residents to experience the venue for themselves.

"We have organic-grown, naturally-grown produce, jams, jellies, breads -- we have everything here," she said. "We have a variety, so we want everyone to come, and be welcomed."

The Farmers Market, sponsored by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in McDonough, is open on Thursdays, from 2 p.m., to 6 p.m., at the Jason T. Harper Event Center at Heritage Park, in McDonough, and on Fridays, from 2 p.m., to 6 p.m., at 2 West Main St., in Hampton.

The market offers fruits, vegetables, jams, jellies and baked goods, as well as homemade arts and crafts.

Frank Hancock, the Extension Office's agriculture and natural resource agent, is coordinating the market for the third year. He said numerous vendors bring their crops to the market, year after year, contributing to its success.

"I've got all of my vendors from last year signed up," Hancock said. "Plus, the phone has kind of been ringing off the hook here, with people calling and wanting to get in at the last minute.

Hancock said the selection of items at the facility typically dictates how busy the market is. "Because this is a locally grown market, to start with, supply can be a little on the short side, because the tomatoes are not all quite ripe yet," he said. "It builds into June where everything gets ripe. From June to July and into August, the crowds are booming, and then, school starts. So, the crowd tapers off."

Hancock said about 5,200 people, and an average of 11 vendors, visited the market from May to September in 2009. Those numbers grew, in 2010, to about 6,200 patrons and 13 vendors in 2010.

"We probably could squeeze 50 vendors in there," Hancock said. "Some days, last year, we had 40 vendors, and the way we spaced them out, it filled the whole place up."

The agent added that "small entrepreneurs" in the area are learning about the market, and bringing items to sell. Word of mouth and advertising has also increased traffic through the venue, according to Hancock.

"We know that we need a good supply of vegetables, so, over the course of a year, we talk to a lot of people that tell us they've got really big gardens," said Hancock. "We ask them if they've considered bringing some of it to the farmers market. It just kind of grows that way."

Hancock said weather, in addition to determining how many customers come to the market each week, is also a factor in how much advertising he conducts for it. "If I've got a drought going on, and my supply is down a little bit, I don't want to do a lot of advertising and bring thousands of people into the market when I don't have anything to sell," he said.

The agent hopes the growth trend for the market, which draws roughly 350 customers people per week, will continue in 2011. That growth, Hancock said, will depend on continued support from vendors and the public.

"It's the supply-and-demand thing," he said. "I need a lot of customers to come in, and I need a lot of produce to sell. If I get a lot of produce, and I don't have a lot of customers, then the farmers will go somewhere else. If I've got a lot of customers, and no produce, then the customers will go somewhere else. That's a balancing that we have to play every week."

Customers come to the market for different reasons. Some of them, Hancock said, have developed an interest in starting or enlarging gardens of their own, through shopping at the Heritage Park venue.

Yvonne Everson, of McDonough, was a regular customer at the market in 2010, and was eager to return this year. She said she enjoys seeing the fruits of local farmers' labors.

"I usually pick up a little something -- not everything, but a little bit of everything," Everson said with a laugh. "It depends on when I come."

Judy Morrow, of McDonough, bought cucumbers at the market from vendor Betty Hickson, also of McDonough. Morrow said the home-grown produce was what attracted her to the market.

"It's close to home, and it's from the local farmers," said Morrow. "It's fresh here. It's not coming all the way from California, and I don't mind paying a little bit more for it."

Corey Smith, of McDonough, visited the market with his father, Mark Smith, in search of fresh fruits and vegetables. Corey Smith said two factors contributed to his decision to come the facility on opening day.

"They have good prices, and it helps out local growers," he said.

For more information, call the Extension Office at (770) 288-8421.