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Spotsy manager sees farmers’ markets as “a place to explore”

photo courtesy Elizabeth Borst

If you’ve been to the Spotsylvania County farmers’ market at five-mile fork in the past few years, you’ve likely seen Elizabeth Borst there.

She’s worked to start a regional chapter of the Buy Fresh Buy Local group to promote local food producers, and she helped Spotsylvania County to become one of the first localities in the state to offer matching funds for residents on SNAP food assistance benefits to buy fresh local foods at the market, through a grant from the Wholesome Wave Foundation.

Now other areas of Virginia are looking to her for advice on how to start programs like this, and in our own area, the benefits–and the capability for regular customers to use their debit cards at the market by buying tokens–will be spread to the Fredericksburg and King George markets this year.

Borst is taking the reins this season as manager of the Spotsylvania market, which opens April 23. Here is a taste of what’s in store:

  • New vendors – Borst said the market is trying to attract new producers, to offer a wider variety of produce and specialty products. New to the mix this year could be fresh chickens, and the market hopes to recruit a seafood vendor. Applications from interested vendors are still being taken. The county has changed its pricing policies for vendors to offer more flexibility for the size of space a seller needs, and to allow for partial season sales for smaller producers.
  • In case you didn’t know, you can use your debit card at the market – This is the third season that a program that allows customers to buy tokens with their cards and use them at the market has been offered. Customers on SNAP food assistance benefits can receive matching funds to make their dollar go farther at the market. This program was responsible for $24,000 in market sales last year, which Borst estimates was an increase of 8 to 10 percent in total market sales. About one-third of that total represents purchases by SNAP customers.
  • Market organizers will be collecting more data this year on sales, attendance, etc., to allow them to better quantify the market’s economic development value to the county.
  • Market hours will remain the same this year – 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Gordon Road commuter lot. A smaller market operates those same hours at Spotsylvania Courthouse Village. Organizers are trying to find a convenient location to operate a Wednesday afternoon market.

Look for Borst at the same booth as the Master Gardeners this year. And don’t hesitate to use her or any of the market vendors as a resource if you’d like to know how to incorporate specific items into your everyday cooking. She said she’d like to encourage more people to try some of the specialty items, from cheeses to sausage to baked goods, that can be found at the market.

“We want to help people learn how to identify and use some of these products that they might not be familiar with,” she said. “We want people to use the market as a place to expand and explore some of these new options. … Use the people who are growing your food as a source of information.”

Borst wants to increase the market’s value, both to consumers and producers. She points out that the Gordon Road market averages around 2,500 customers per week.

“That’s a small percentage of our total population,” she said. “We can certainly accommodate many other customers with the products we have here.”

Because Spotsylvania itself is home to so many farms, Borst sees the market also as an economic development tool to help support that sector of the county economy. She talks about putting agriculture “on the regional agenda” and has been bringing local food up at local and regional government meetings. She’s interested in programs like an incubator for fledgling farm businesses, programs to teach skills to new market growers and a local food hub that could more easily connect producers with purchasers like restaurants and institutional customers.

But right now, her focus is preparing for another market season in Spotsylvania. She encourages families to look at the market as a Saturday outing with a lot of benefits.

“You get exposure to where your food comes from, and you go home with healthy food to enjoy all week,” she said.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/frontburner/2011/03/25/260/