Downtown LaFayette will host a weekly farmers market this season as the trend of farmers markets and supporting local producers grows in Northwest Georgia.
City leadership reached out to market manager Mackenzie Boisvert, and she said within a few weeks the market's all-volunteer team set everything up with support from city officials.
"I thought that was a great idea," she said about the weekly market in a phone call. "It's going to look like a little Hallmark movie, right? So we're going to start doing every Saturday starting May 6 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. out on the square in LaFayette."
The Market on the Square will be set up at 100 East Villanow St., and Boisvert said it's a producers-only market. Boisvert said that means vendors have to make it, grow it, bake it or craft it within 25 miles of the market.
David Hamilton, LaFayette city manager, said in an email that the city is excited to have a downtown farmers market this season, and it's part of recent investments in the city.
"We continue to look for ways to create more activity downtown, bringing more visitors and shoppers to our downtown businesses, and we believe this will be a great catalyst," Hamilton said about the farmers market.
Farmers markets show residents what's special about their area's local agriculture, Boisvert said. White beans are an example of a traditional local product, and Cherokee purple tomatoes are another traditional crop that will be available further along in the season. Black-eyed peas, okra and blue Hubbard squash are other traditional crops from Northwest Georgia, she said.
"My favorite is the North Georgia candy roaster, that is literally from right here in Northwest Georgia," Boisvert said.
It's a variety of squash that originated with the Cherokee people, she said.
Other examples of traditional Cherokee produce that can be found at local farmers markets are the cushaws squash and Trail of Tears variety of pole beans, Boisvert said. Most of the local farmers try to get traditional varieties, she said.
Since she started running markets five years ago, Boisvert said there's been a shift in the culture — and more small farms are popping up in Northwest Georgia. A mushroom farm, rabbit farm and all kinds of other meats and produce farms have recently been added to the local agriculture community.
When asked if there was any needed products or produce in the region's farmers markets, Boisvert said organizers need more berries.
It's amazing how most every product niche is being filled by entrepreneurial farmers, she said.
"I'm really blown away by it," she said. "There's a lot of talent in our area,"
The city of LaFayette has offered a lot of support to the new market, including adding electrical outlets for producers, advertising and sponsoring the market's double-up program for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps.
The double-up program, which extends the buying power of SNAP benefits at such markets, is run by a nonprofit based in Atlanta called Wholesome Wave Georgia, Boisvert said. Only Atlanta has more shoppers statewide that use the double-up program for their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and she said it's been a great way to get fresh produce into the homes of those in need.
A farmers market has been held on Saturdays in Rock Spring for the last 19 years and is the oldest farmers market in Georgia, she said. The Walker County Farmers Market, also managed by Boisvert, will still be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays starting May 3 in Rock Spring.
Future Farmers of America will be hosting events for children at both markets. Boisvert said the organization will be showing children how to make ice cream, start plants, and other activities that teach young people about agriculture.
"It screams community, farmers markets do," Boisvert said. "It brings everybody in the local area all together. It's kind of an old-world thing, and traditions based, I feel, having a farmers market."
On National Ag Day March 21, Walker County government said in a social media post that the number of farms in the county has grown from 528 in 2018 to 624 last year — the seventh most in Georgia. Walker County's top three commodities are poultry, livestock and forage crops, the post said.
Walker County's farm gate value — the county's agricultural products' market value minus their selling cost — is over $90 million per year, according to the post from the county.
In Ringgold, the Rabbit Valley Farmers Market kicks off its season with a free wine and art market from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 29, said Samantha Leslie, market director/manager. Both the market and wine and art market will take place at 96 Depot St., near the historic Ringgold railroad depot.
The weekly Rabbit Valley Farmers Market begins May 6 with First Responders Day, Leslie said. Along with 30 to 35 vendors, Leslie said there will be a fire truck, police officer and live music.
Leslie said the market was started during the pandemic as an outgrowth of the bartering that went on between local farmers during that time. Leslie said she is a farmer, and the rest of the community deserves the same access to food security as she has.
"Our goal was to revitalize the community and revitalize small businesses," she said. "We tried to involve as much of the local businesses and as much of the community as we can. We wanted to be the local community event."
And it's been successful, Leslie said. Now residents of Ringgold have someplace they can go every Saturday that supports and builds community. The market also hosts evening events like a music festival and Octoberfest sponsored by local businesses, because Leslie said art is an important part of community building.
As a local producers-only market, there will not be tomatoes in May, she said, but there will be mushrooms, greens, beef, pork, chicken, flowers, cold weather produce, as well as value-added products like jellies and hot sauce. This season, Leslie said, there is a new soap vendor, a new pottery vendor and a woodworker that carves local city maps.
As more produce comes into season, the market will get busier, she said.
Leslie said all area nonprofits can set up at the market for free, and East Ridge Animal Service will have a ready-to-adopt dogs at each market. Leashed dogs are welcome too, she said.
Every week, a youth vendor can set up and sell anything they've grown or made for free, and she said there are still youth vendor slots available for this season's market. The market's kids club will also have a raised bed garden, Leslie said, so children can watch what they plant grow throughout the season.
Earl Gray, Fort Oglethorpe mayor, said his city's farmers market will soon open its second season at 214 1st Street, and the community is excited.
Named Stable 41 Farmers Market after the pavilion's original use when Fort Oglethorpe was established as a cavalry post in the early 1900s, the market opens from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 28 with a Food Truck Friday.
The first of the regular Sunday craft and farmers markets is 1 p.m. to. 4 p.m. April 30 and will feature a plant sale.
The market runs weekly through Aug. 13, and a seasonal market will follow in the fall and winter. After a well-attended opening season, Gray said the market has added events, concerts and a fresh produce and meat market on Thursdays from from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. beginning in June.
"We had a huge Christmas market, and had over 3,000 people attend," Gray said.
The farmers market was started due to requests from resident surveys — and it's been a success, Gray said. He said the market has done well, in his opinion, because it's in a good location, is covered in case of rain and was started due to community interest.
Contact Andrew Wilkins at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.