Nathan Howell grows vegetables year-round with his family on the 20-acre, aptly named Need More Acres Farm in Scottsville. And every Tuesday, he sells this produce at the Community’s Farmers Market in Bowling Green.
On Tuesday of this week, Howell greeted a small string of loyal customers behind a rainbow spread of squash, peppers, eggplant and watermelon.
“Communication between customers and vendors is essential in this type of business,” said Howell, who suggested his love for farming mirrors his love for supporting people in the community with healthy food.
In the agricultural landscape of Kentucky, only a fraction of a percent of the land is used to grow fruits, vegetables or nuts. But Howell is part of a growing coterie of Kentuckians trying to make a living from feeding locals at farmer’s markets with small-farm produce.
“Farmer’s markets are a way to take the pulse of a community to see how they support local ag,” Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said.
Quarles sees opportunities for significant growth in the market, such as partnerships between schools and small farmers.
“There’s more capacity for the local food movement to continue its success. There are millions of dollars of unmet market capacity,” he said.
Farmer’s markets also offer experiences such as live music, cooking demonstrations and family-friendly activities – which Quarles referred to as “freshest party in town.”
SOKY Marketplace, one of Bowling Green’s other weekly farmer’s markets, seeks to accomplish this atmosphere downtown. This week, the vendors will be boosting their normal offerings in celebration of National Farmer’s Markets Week.
There will be a “backyard bootcamp” workout in the amphitheater at 7 a.m. before the marketplace’s official opening at 8 a.m. There will be yoga at 9 a.m. under the pavilion, a “Bloody Mary bar,” inflatables for kids, brunch served with vegetables and meats from vendors, wine by the glass and a “sip n’ paint” class at 11:30 a.m.
“This is not just a farmer’s market, you can make a Saturday out of it,” said Sarah Wilson, director of operations for the SOKY Marketplace. “During this week, we’ll go a little over the top.”
SOKY Marketplace boasts 36 vendors and continues to attract more programs and customers. Wilson estimated that the average weekly Saturday attendance has grown from about 400 people to 600 people. SOKY Marketplace also offers a 24-hour “community commercial” kitchen for renting, which has been rented out most of the summer to catering businesses, bakers and some of the marketplace vendors, Wilson said.
Wilson hopes to see this local food movement grow.
“These are smaller farms, we have to support them so they can continue,” Wilson said. “Buying local is just so much better. You’re getting to know where your food is coming from and it’s healthier.”
Diane Reid sells wines crafted from homegrown elderberries, blueberries and strawberries weekly at the Community Farmer’s Market.
“The winery business isn’t an alcohol business. It’s a tourism business,” said Reid, who helps her husband operate Reid’s Livery Winery, where they frequently host visitors as part of their business.
Rex Reid is gifted at growing things, but couldn’t make enough money just from berries. So, upon someone’s suggestion to consider the winery business, he went to Barnes & Noble and bought two books, Diane Reid said about her husband.
With a hop, skip and a jump, their wines were winning awards in international competitions.
For the Reids, the farmer’s market serves the purpose of marketing more than a method of making a living – as they don’t always sell more than a few bottles of wine per day. But they do always sell out of their eggs.
“There needs to be more people,” Diane Reid said.