JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the ASU Regional Farmer's Market Saturday told Region 8 News it plans to build a permanent structure to cover the market, allowing it to continue business in the event of rain. Officials said the market has only been rained out twice throughout its 4 year history, but a grant awarded by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture may make it possible to construct a building on the campus of ASU.
"I would like to think that we would be able to start out next spring in one of the buildings. We have somewhat of a master plan that includes more than one building," said Thom Beasley, Manager of the Craighead County Farm Bureau.
Beasley and Earl Duffel, market manager, said the market is in the process of drawing up plans. Once plans are finalized, it will begin finding ways of funding. The Agriculture Department awarded the market $75,000 to partially fund construction, according to Beasley.
"There's plenty of people in Jonesboro that's hunting this kind of produce and fresh vegetables and it's just going to keep growing. We'll get our building next year maybe and that'll help," said Jerry Daugherty.
Daugherty said he's been a vendor at the ASU market since its beginning 4 years ago. At first, he said there were only 4 vendors selling fresh produce. Duffel said the site has averaged 20 vendors each Saturday morning in 2009. The market is also open Tuesday afternoons.
"The big draw is it's a social event that's every weekend and the wonderful vegetables, fruits. We even have a lot of melons starting to come in now," said Beasley. "It's an atmosphere of people just enjoying walking around outside and shopping for some really fresh vegetables."
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"Support the local farmers; give them a boost in their confidence in the things that they're selling. I like fresh vegetables," said Pam Herring.
Herring said she's been a customer of the market for nearly a year.
"It's gotten a lot bigger and I enjoy it. I'd like to see all the new things. I just noticed that they got some jewelry and things out here. That's the first time I've seen that. I like to see the birdhouses and stuff. I'd like to see it grow," said Herring.
According to Herring, the price of the produce at the market is comparable to that found at a grocery store. She said the food also tastes better than what is found in stores.
"We have family in from out of state and we're going to enjoy from fresh okra and some potatoes tonight for supper," said Herring. "Everything out here is much better. Better quality. Better taste. Just better for the family."
Herring said one benefit of buying produce at a farmer's market is that you know who is growing the food. That face to face contact is also beneficial to the farmer who attracts repeat customers.
"When you're dealing direct with somebody, you bring them, repeat customers, you bring them the best that you can get your hands on," said Daugherty.
According to Beasley, all produce sold at the ASU Regional Farmer's Market is grown within a 120 miles radius in the state of Arkansas.
"The tomatoes are tastier. A lot of the other vegetables are a little more tasty. The melons are wonderful," said Beasley.
Customers Region 8 News spoke with Saturday morning said the key reason they visit the market every weekend is the freshness you can find.
"My family furnishes Kroger warehouse in Memphis with yellow squash and stuff where we'll pick it and it'll go in our warehouse, then it'll go to their warehouse, and then it'll come out of their warehouse to the store in rotation and I can get it to you 3 or 4 days quicker right here," said Daugherty.
Duffel said 851 people purchased produce at the market Saturday morning. He said more than 900 customers made purchases each of the last 2 weekends.
"I think the biggest crowd was probably 1,100 or something like that and that for a basically a 4 or 5 hour period," said Beasley.
When asked if the economy had something to do with the increase in popularity of farmer's markets, Beasley said the economy has been beneficial.
"With the growth we've had this year in the number of vendors and the growth in the number of people that turned out last year, if anything, we're doing better," said Beasley. "I think, if anything, it may have brought more people to us. Our producers are selling at good prices."
"People seem to be buying what they have the last 3 or 4 years. They're going to eat," said Daugherty. "It's just part of their routine to come see us every Saturday and Tuesday afternoons."
Beasley, Duffel, Herring and Daugherty said they expect the market to grow over the next several years. The farmers Region 8 News talked to said they are anxiously awaiting a new building.
"It has grown quite a bit. We had a very good year the first year that we started out but we were always a little short on our vendors," said Beasley.
"You can tell by the people coming in that it's growing and it'll just continue to grow," said Daugherty.