Farmers’ markets in the South-Central Region, just like those in the rest the country, are facing some serious challenges to their integrity. Proclaiming themselves “locally grown,” many new markets are popping up, populated by resellers alongside legitimate producers. In our Region, members have reported a supposed beekeeper who buys his “honey-like substance” from China and resells it in his own labeled bottles, and vendors selling “locally grown” pineapples and bananas at Texas markets. Here in Nacogdoches, one vendor actually touted machine-cut “baby” carrots as produce from her farm. Vendors at some markets complain that market managers turn a blind eye to these resellers, despite “locally grown” rules. But I am happy to report that our market is now dealing rather firmly with these transgressions.  I thought you might find our story interesting and possibly helpful too.

The Nacogdoches Farmers’ Market is located on city-owned property known to old-timers as the “hitch lot,” where rural visitors once “hitched” their horses while on business in town. Long ago, a farmers’ market existed here, but competition from grocery stores led to its demise. Many years later, a reseller began leasing the site from the city, and continued his business there alone until 2005 when stirrings began to build a real farmers’ market. For a few years, an uneasy truce developed, with the reseller at one end of the market and a few farmers and craftspeople at the other end. In 2007, the reseller died after a long illness, and the market became a full-fledged farmers’ market. By this time we had rules in place requiring that all products be locally produced, with “local” defined to include an area within 90 miles of Nacogdoches. Furthermore, anything not grown or produced by the farmer/craftsperson must be labeled with the producer’s name, location and phone number.

But setting rules is one thing—enforcing them can be quite another matter. Our market manager, Sarah, is a city employee who has many other responsibilities as “Main Street Manager” for Nacogdoches. This young woman also has no farming background, making farm inspections quite a challenge for her. Besides, confronting a much older vendor about rule violations could be rather daunting. So for a few years, some vendors ignored the rules, reselling products that the “real” farmers knew they had not grown. The farmers complained and the manager conducted a few farm inspections. But it was easy to fool a city girl. Land was plowed, crops growing—but were these the crops the vendor was selling at the market? Hard to tell.

Last year, things began to change. Sarah had had enough and got tough. The city decided on a “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” policy. At the first offense, you get a verbal warning. Next offense, you get a written citation. Third offense, you are out for good. Some vendors got that third strike and were asked to leave the market. In addition, every farm is now being inspected, and the County Extension agent has agreed to help with these inspections. Upon hearing that inspections would be required, some vendors decided to leave the market immediately—hmm.

We vendors were happy with this progress, but some of us felt that the vendors needed a more official role in the market’s operation. We asked the city to establish a farmers’ market advisory board comprised of vendors. The city agreed and, by the time you read this, our new 5-member board will have held its first meeting. As currently envisioned, the board’s functions will include rule review, event planning, vendor review, enforcement of “locally grown,” vendor recruitment and retention, and market expansion and renovations. One big area of concern is exceptions to the “locally grown” policy. The city has approved sales of a few Texas products grown farther than 90 miles from Nacogdoches: cheese from the Texas Hill Country and citrus from the Texas Valley area, for example. Sarah has approved items which she believes truly add value to the market, but she welcomes the board’s help in making such decisions.

Sarah believes that our market is on the “right path.” I agree. It is a small but thriving market, with typically 15 to 25 vendors selling a wide variety of produce, free-range eggs, baked goods, artwork, craft items, plants, and, of course, flowers. We have weekly musical entertainment and a food caterer, and our well-attended Spring Fling and Fall Harvest Festivals feature special family activities, such as children’s yoga, face painting and art projects. The Nacogdoches Farmers’ Market has become a true community gathering place and we hope to keep it that way. Maybe the City’s tougher rule enforcement and our new advisory board will help. I’ll keep you posted. 

Josie Crowson

Josie's Fresh Flowers

Contact at [email protected]