Big things in store for the small farmer

Farmers Market logoweb

Knox County has earned the chance to be one of 26 communities across the nation to receive support from Local Foods, Local Places, a new government program backed by six federal agencies. The main goal of this program is to help communities develop economic “action plans.”

Tuesday started a two-day workshop with a tour of Barbourville to familiarize the Local Foods, Local Places planners with the town. Impressed by the renovations already made by the town, Amanda Douglas, Planner with Renaissance Planning (the government contracted group organizing the work shop) said, “We’ve heard stories of how your downtown is coming back to life, it’s a great marker of what you’ve already accomplished. We saw where you started, where you are now and maybe where we can help take you.”

Then the real work began. Members of the Board for Knox County Farmers’ Market, Farmers’ Market vendors, and members of the community met at Union College’s Ramsey Center to brainstorm and discuss possible ways to improve our local Farmers’ Market.

A wide range of ideas were tossed around, from a Farmers’ market website, to a possible internship, to a Farmers’ co-op. The group was encouraged to be creative and think outside the box. It was an open conversation between the speakers and the attendees. Among the many discussions, one topic that constantly came up was education.

Bill Oxendine, Knox County PVA and life-long farmer, said, “As a farmer from the outside looking in, our family has raised two generations that do not know how to grow anything. We need a way to sell out product and educated those who can’t produce food themselves. People don’t realize what we have to offer.”

Farmers’ markets offer vendors a unique opportunity to gain experience with the business aspect of agriculture. As Sandi Curd of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation says, “It introduces vendors to the business side at a level that is manageable, but the risk isn’t that great. That’s one of the most wonderful aspects of the Farmers’ Market.”

An example given of a successful vendor is Matt Egging, a former Barbourville resident who began roasting coffee beans as a hobby for friends and family. His time with the Knox County Farmers’ Market was so successful that now, after relocating to Oklahoma, he plans to roast coffee as his main source of income and intends to sell his product mainly at various Farmers’ markets. In a recorded interview presented at the workshop, Egging said, “It was not only nice to get some business experience but it was nice to meet other vendors and build up my client base. It gave me a jumping off point and allowed my family to have a social outlet. It was like a breath of fresh air.”
The workshop will continue on Wednesday, as a detailed action plan is prepared for Knox County.
When asked what he is most looking forward to, Scot Clouse of Barbourville Tourism and Manager of Knox County Farmers’ Market, said, “I’m excited to see how we reevaluate our local downtown are for its use-ability, walk-ability, and purpose.”