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Changes sprout at King George farmers market

The woman who grew the King George Farmers Market from three vendors on its first Saturday to a thriving community event visited by 15,000 people last year is stepping away from her duties to spend more time with her family.

“I need my brain to quiet down for a while so that I can wake up and not have the farmers market be the first thought that jumps into my head,” said DeLaura Padovan, the driving force behind the market since it started in 2009. “I feel like it’s the right time to do things with my family and not be married to the market.”

Padovan home-schools her two teenage daughters and hasn’t had enough time for their activities. Her family embraces a rustic lifestyle, with time together a primary component.

She and her husband, Steve Hickman, and their children live in a log cabin he built. They grow their own vegetables and raise chickens for eggs and goats for milk that’s used to make yogurt and cheese. They don’t panic when the electricity goes out because they purposely live without it.

Padovan also wants to step away from market duties so she can get back to making music. Hickman plays the fiddle while she calls “contra dances,” music numbers that date back to Thomas Jefferson’s day.

“I had stopped calling dances on Friday nights because I had to get to the market by 6 a.m. on Saturday,” she said.

Music is also one of the reasons she’s ending her duties this month.

On April 19, the family will set out on a seven-week journey. They’ll end up in Santa Fe, where their girls will participate in a festival featuring music from Zimbabwe.

Along the way, they’ll perform at dance events “for gas money,” Padovan said, and see the American West.

Later in the spring and summer, they’ll head to New Hampshire, West Virginia and North Carolina for other music events and festivals.

Padovan says she’ll be ready by Sept. 1 to start thinking about the market again, but she won’t return as manager. She’d like to work on special projects, such as finding a permanent home and pavilion for the market, which currently meets in the parking lot of King George Elementary School.

She also wants to do more with a farm-to-schools program and perhaps work on market programs on a regional or statewide level.

Padovan has worked as a volunteer, for the most part. The county provided a $5,000 stipend one year, using funds that had been allocated to the Virginia Extension Office. The market also got some grant funding for her salary and set aside a $2,000 stipend this year.

It wasn’t unusual for Padovan to spend several hours each day just returning phone calls and emails. Because of the lack of electricity at home, she went to the Smoot Library or Extension office for computer access.

Wherever she went—bank, post office or grocery store—she talked up the market and the benefits of eating locally grown food, said Jane Van Valzah, president of the market’s board of directors.

“Her enthusiasm has just been overwhelming,” she said. “I think DeLaura eats, lives and breathes for this farmers market.”

Pegi Wright, King George’s Extension agent, said Padovan came in contact with every vendor, volunteer and consumer.

“I hate to say that she’s the market, but she is,” Wright said.

In an email announcing her departure, Padovan announced that King George native Aldyn Abell, a 4–H All-Star, will volunteer as a market management intern when she finishes her freshman year at Virginia Tech.

Members of the board, especially Van Valzah, will pick up many of her duties, and she said there’s no shortage of volunteers with enthusiasm and good ideas.

She believes the infrastructure is in place to keep it growing.

“The market has become such a special part of our lives,” Padovan said. “It’s where all the great people are on Saturday mornings.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

MARKET HIGHLIGHTS

The King George Farmers Market earned national attention the year after it started. In 2010, it was declared America’s favorite “boutique” farmers market in an online contest sponsored by American Farmland Trust. King George earned 1,082 votes, the most nationwide for markets with 15 vendors or less.

By last summer, about 600 people shopped at the rural market each Saturday—for a 2012 attendance total of more than 15,000 people.

The market combined old and new. In a “Fields to Table” cookbook, old-timers shared tips on canning and cooking while the “Vegucation Station” showed shoppers new and interesting vegetables and how to cook them.

In 2012, more than 30 local civic and municipal organizations participated in monthly Community Days, in which representatives shared information about their groups.

The market has become the place to be on Saturday mornings because of DeLaura Padovan’s direction, said Pegi Wright, a family consumer and science agent with the Virginia Extension Office in King George.

“It’s not just a farmers market, but a community spot to come up and see your neighbors and have a good time without having to pay for it,” she said.

The market opens its season at 8 a.m. April 27 at the King George Elementary School parking lot, at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 205.

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