ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Farmers Market Association dished on plans for growth during Tuesday’s meeting at the county agricultural services center.
According to association president Nora Hudson, the Downtown Hamlet Farmers Market will open from 4 to 8 p.m. beginning on Thursday, May 4, at Hamlet Depot Park.
“It’s going to be so different,” said County Extension Director Susan Kelly. “It’s going to be so nice, I think, having it in the evening.”
The Rockingham Farmers Markets will take place from 8 a.m. until noon on Wednesdays in the parking lot of the health department, and on Saturdays at Harrington Square.
“Our first day (in Rockingham) is going to be April 22,” Kelly said.
“Which is Earth Day,” Hudson added. “So we’re going to try to work some Earth Day activities into it as well.”
Hudson said the association has been here for more than 20 years, but the farmers market had been open only on Saturdays until recently.
“The Hamlet city manager at the time, Marcus Abernethy, contacted me and David Lindsey and said ‘We’d like to have a farmers market in Hamlet,” Kelly said. “I was concerned, because I thought we’d be competing, but he said they wanted to join the association, which is great.”
Kelly said that by having an evening market downtown, Hamlet could see a spark in activity on Main Street.
“I think they were going to try and have food trucks and entertainment there, too,” Hudson said. “Stephanie Thornsbury, the downtown coordinator, is actually behind the scenes planning the activities.”
Kelly said most of the vendors will likely participate in all three markets, with a few focusing solely on Hamlet or Rockingham.
Local vendor fees for the year will be $25, but up to $55 for vendors from outside Richmond County.
Laura Greene, manager of all three farmers markets, said this allows new outside vendors to complete a trial period.
“The way we do that is three weeks at $10, and then $25,” Greene said.
“It’s sort of a probationary thing,” Kelly said. “We want to protect our Richmond County producers first, and if it’s somebody who’s not bringing stuff legally, we want to make sure they’re in compliance.”
Those receiving food assistance will be able to get more bang for their bucks at any of the three locations.
“The big news is the EBT double-up bucks,” Kelly said. If a person uses their EBT card, up to $20, they get double for produce, baked goods or vegetable plants.”
The “Double Your EBT Dollars” initiative is paid for by a grant from Rural Advancement Foundation International. Kelly reached out to RAFI and discovered there was extra money for farmers markets. Greene handled all of the administrative duties involved in obtaining the grant funds.
J.A. Bolton, association secretary and treasurer, said the EBT program began part of the way through last year.
“They came down a time or two and interviewed us and checked out the farmers markets,” he said. “I think last year it worked real good.”
Bolton added that the peach farmers in the county are having a rough go of things this year due to the mild winter and early blooming followed by a week of subfreezing nighttime temperatures that came on the heels of a weekend snowfall on March 12. Strawberries, however, appear to be safe.
“They picked 100 gallons last Saturday morning,” he said. “And we’re going to hopefully get the pound up there to bring the dogs and see if they can adopt them.”
“We just want to get more people involved,” Kelly said. “Young people, children. We’d like to see people bringing their children to the farmers market when they’re buying fresh vegetables. Maybe do an activity.
“You know, people buy their groceries every week, and sometimes they don’t remember to come to the farmers market and buy from our local farmers,” she continued. “We’d like to see more people coming out on Saturdays.”
The RCFM Association is seeking sponsors for the season. There are three sponsorship levels: Bull for up to $2,000, Heifer up to $1,000 and Calf at $500. Checks should be made payable to Richmond County Farmers Market Association. All sponsors will be prominently listed on signs and in advertisements. For information on sponsorship, call Bolton at 910-997-4658 or send email to email@example.com.
For general information about the farmers market, call Susan Kelly at 910-997-8255.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.