In these days of sustainable energy, green growth, and the pandemic of diabetes, these three factors are coming together to spark a new interest and new need for Farmer’s Markets. They’re local; they’re sustainable; they’re fresh; they help educate consumers to eat more healthfully by eating more vegetables and fruits and help consumers learn new ways to use unfamiliar foods.
Master Gardeners Volunteer at Farmer’s Markets ….
Here in Johnston County, NC, where I live, Master Gardeners volunteer at the local Farmer’s Market because it’s a great place to talk to people about growing some of their own fruits and vegetables or talking to them about other Extension services like canning, nutrition, soil testing, plant ID and pathology – the opportunities abound! MGs can also share information about local CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) or pick-your-own farms.
Master Gardeners in Larimer, CO, have a special relationship with the Farmer’s Market….
But in Larimer, CO, Master Gardeners have a special relationship with the farmer’s market – thirty-seven years ago they started their very own farmer’s market as a way to find an outlet for excess produce. Today they still run that market with 65 vendors and 4,000 – 5,000 shoppers every Saturday (there are actually 80 vendors that rotate through the market seasonally). They manage this amazing feat by organizing 120 volunteers into 6 shifts with one Market Master Coordinator. The MGs must be dedicated because their shifts start at 5:30 am! But Alison Stoven O’Connor, Extension Agent for the Market and the Extension MGs, says that the Master Gardeners love their market and are proud of their singular accomplishment.
After setting the market up every week in the Larimer County Courthouse parking lot, the MGs who man the Extension’s booth continue to work by answering questions, mentoring gardeners and encouraging farmers. They also benefit from the cross referrals that occur naturally – farmers sending customers to the MG booth and MGs sending customers to the farmer’s booths. The Master Food Safety Advisors also do demos there on food preservation, answer questions and host tastings. The Larimer Market is also able to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) coupons from their customers.
The Best Part of Volunteering at a Farmer’s Market….
But best of all is the wonderful sense of community everyone derives from the market. It’s a wonderful way to connect people to people – the consumer to the farmer through knowing where their food comes from and making healthier food choices, the farmer to the consumer by hearing customer interests and tastes, Extension and Master Gardeners to the public through visibility, education and demonstration and, last but not least, the wonderful festive atmosphere that pervades the market and the camaraderie this joint effort creates.
Do you volunteer at a Farmer’s Market near you? Share your experiences!
by Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener/Composter (Cornell ‘95) currently serving in Johnston County, NC