06-25-14-farmers-market.gifCumberland County Commissioner Jimmy Keefe took exception to last week’s publisher’s notes penned by Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman. The topic was whether or not the Franklin Street parking deck is the right place to set up the farmers market. Bowman thinks not. Keefe begs to differ.

To truly understand the argument, it helps to know what makes the members of the Fayetteville Farmers Market Association, and the entity itself, unique – what sets it apart from the City Market and the private enterprises in the area that sell produce. The Fayetteville Farmers Market Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping local farmers bring fresh healthy produce to the community. Members of the organization sign an agreement that mandates that they grow at least 80 percent of what they sell through the association. The organization partners with the N.C. Cooperative Extension to bring resources and training to the members and to advocate on behalf of the farmers. This makes things like the Good Agricultural Practices Certification more accessible and affordable for the farmers, allowing them to sell to schools, hospitals and other systems. The Fayetteville FMA works with public health agencies to assure that fresh healthy produce is available to everyone, including low-income groups that use nutrition cards to buy food. Members of the FMA are local residents with a stake in the community.

By following the mandates and guidelines of the organization, Keefe noted there are several sources of funds that could come available once the market is up and running. “There are community transformation grants and monies through the N.C. Department of Agriculture that we don’t have access to because we don’t have a workable plan right now. There are Golden Leaf funds from tobacco settlements that are used to promote healthy communities that we want to apply for. There are monies earmarked for public health, which include farmers markets, but you have to have a plan and be able to measure success. This kind of financial support would benefit the community and farmers.” And yet, the FMA still struggles to find a home.

“If you’ve ever been to a thriving farmers market, you know there is a vibe there. It becomes a social event,” said Keefe. “There is a sense of community at well-run farmers markets and an atmosphere that promotes healthy living and healthy lifestyles. I believe putting the farmers market in the parking deck will work. It will provide cover for the farmers and customers. It will add foot traffic to the downtown area and enhance the culture of downtown and in addition to bringing fresh, healthy food to the community.”

Keefe added that he hopes for a day when local restaurants will shop for ingredients at the farmers market and that hosting it in the parking deck would make it that much more convenient for them.

Some arguments against using the parking deck include the fact that the facility has no water, no bathrooms and no room to grow. Keefe notes that several previous locations did not have water or bathrooms and still had plenty of customers. Besides, the parking deck was designed for retail on the ground floor and has hookups for these facilities that could be used at a later date. And yes, Keefe said. There is room to grow. “We are not asking for a monopoly on selling produce or to make the farmers market a competitor with other local markets. We want to coexist side by side so that we can all prosper and work together to benefit the community.”

While the powers that be struggle to work out the details — or not — the Fayetteville Farmers Market Association is moving forward. If it’s not going to be the Franklin Street parking deck, the organization is committed to setting up in other locations around town. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks…

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