Last updated: October 30. 2013 3:13PM - 817 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe Sampson County Farmers Market, originally expected to close this week, will remain open until Thanksgiving.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe Sampson County Farmers Market, originally expected to close this week, will remain open until Thanksgiving.
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The revamped Sampson Farmers Market, expected to wrap up its six-month season this week, will continue through the end of November.

The Farmers Market opened its season May 1 to a large turnout of vendors and patrons and has seen a steady crowd since. Everything from produce to crafts and hand-stitched dresses to homemade soap have been on sale, and vendors — notably farmers — expressed their desire during a recent meeting to keep the market going for a while longer.

“They actually wanted to keep it open up to Thanksgiving,” said Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose. “At the last meeting, some of the vendors brought it up and said they still had some vegetables they could sell. We didn’t see any reason not to.”

A couple months into its Wednesday and Saturday operations this summer, expanded Friday hours were added to the mix, and Rose said it has been a successful endeavor. She noted the great deal of effort it takes on the part of organizers, many of whom are volunteers, to advertise the market and put on a slate of activities to draw in visitors.

“I think it’s been really good,” said Rose. “If we are able to get more activities on different days (next year), I think that will bring more people.”

Homer Marshall, executive director of the Sampson Community Development Corporation, spearheaded an effort three years ago to utilize the City Market by having a Farmers Cooperative sell locally-grown produce during the annual harvest season, but the efforts of a loyal few were not reaching the masses. Bolstered by some new growing techniques and local and state partnerships, Marshall and others endeavored to jump-start the market at the beginning of this year.

A local volunteer committee was formed in January 2013 with the goal of growing the farmers’ regular presence downtown in order to boost the success of the 2013 market season, encompassing vendors that span beyond farming — to bring “the best of the county to the heart of the city,” showcasing homegrown produce and handcrafted products.

Marshall said he has been happy with the results, but hopes to see the market continue to grow and thrive. He said the market will be open through November with the goal of more sales.

“We’ve got late produce that some of the farmers planted and we’re going to stay open and see if we can get some of those out,” said Marshall.

The market’s ultimate aim has been to serve as a forum where local handmade and homegrown goods can be sold directly to consumers, who can, in turn, also be educated about local farming and seasonal eating, all in order to promote the use of locally-grown ingredients and locally-made products. This year, the effort broadened to include not just fresh and organically-grown produce, but crafts and homegrown treats, such as baked goods, honey, eggs, assorted jam and plants, handmade clothes, accessories, soap and other wares.

Over 40 vendors signed up, but they are not all there at once because they rotate throughout the days of the week and throughout the months of the season. An average day has seen about a dozen vendors at the market, give or take.

Fitness and yoga classes sponsored by the Sampson Regional’s Center for Health and Wellness, as well as safety seat clinics by local law enforcement, have been a part of the market, along with other educational, fitness-related and children’s programs.

Rose said organizers are looking to hopefully expand those offerings next year in an effort to increase traffic to the market. She said the market has enjoyed great participation when its hours coincide with other events, such as the Court Square Street Fair, a few weeks back, which she noted was a “phenomenal day.”

Rose said she and others want the attendance and visitors to continue to rise, and said she felt good inroads have been made this year.

“We are certainly going to reach out to all of the vendors to encourage them to continue to be a part of the market and ask what we can do to improve it,” she remarked. “I’ve been pretty proud of them. I think they’ve built some good customers.”

The market is open Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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