40 Years Of Freshness

August 1, 2011 | By More

Just a few decades ago fresh produce was the only produce. Most families provided for themselves and any excess was traded for goods from other members of the community. That heritage of neighborly commerce has been passed down and carried on by the members of the Pope County Farmer’s Market.

The Farmer’s Market is celebrating its 40th anniversary of providing locally-grown produce and other farm commodities to the Arkansas River Valley this year. While time spent at the market can provide a glimpse of days gone by, there have been a few changes through the years.

“Probably the biggest change I can think of is when we stopped selling by the bushel.” This was Gordon Trusty’s answer when asked about change, in only the last 30 years anyway. Trusty started selling at the Market in 1981.

“We started selling by the pound along ‘bout the late 80s. Back then, when the market was at the fairgrounds, we had a gate up and the customers would be crowded around; then when the gate opened…well, it got pretty crazy sometimes.”

There was a need to speed up the shopping for individual customers due to the crowds and the farmers responded with pre-bagging produce.

“That was the main reason behind baggin’ up our vegetables, so we could take care of our customers quicker. That’s why I did it anyway; other farmers saw the benefit and did it too,” said Trusty.

Of course the families participating in the Market have changed as well. Some of the notable names of past market members recalled by Trusty include the Shields family, Seth Barber, Sibyl and Lawrence Bowden, and Imo Jacobs — one of the founders of the Pope County Farmer’s Market.

Rick and Rhonda Holland are one of the “new” families participating in the Market. They’ve only been involved for 18 years. The Hollands grow squash, cucumbers, okra, and of course, their famous honey which they have been selling for 28 years. They even have a portable honey bee viewer with them at the Market — a great point of interest for all those folks with no apiary backgrounds but who enjoy watching nature in action.

Rick Holland is happy to talk about the details of bee-keeping as well as changes in the market he has noticed over the years.

“The change I’ve seen the most and one that I’m very happy about is the increase in community support. I think we have a larger number of customers and the customers are very loyal. We tend to see familiar faces week after week right along with our new customers. It sure makes us feel like we offering products that the community appreciates.”

Current president of the Pope County Farmer’s Market, Kenny Drewry has been a staple in the organization since 1997. He and wife Nancy are key players in the entire farming community of the River Valley.

The Drewrys offer a wide selection of items for market customers but are known around the county for their peaches. Kenny is proud of where the Market is sitting 40 years down the road and sees the future with an optimistic eye.

“The thing that makes Pope County Farmer’s Market unique is our dedication to providing fruit, vegetables and other products that are grown or made in the River Valley area exclusively. We have pretty strict guidelines as far as who is allowed to participate and the first qualification is that it’s got to be from this area.”

Farmers wanting to join the Market must complete an application and be open to a farm inspection.

“That’s not something we have needed to do on a regular basis but we want that option. It keeps us true to who we are — we’re River Valley farmers.”

If inspections of an applicant farm are needed they will be performed by the Market president or the Pope County Extension Service.

“We have a good group of people involved down here now. As a matter of fact, I think we only have a few slots left open.”

Though the Market has Pope County in the name, many surrounding counties are represented but true to Kenny Drewry’s words, all are part of the River Valley region. Those counties with farmers participating in the Farmer’s Market now are Yell, Johnson, and Logan, along with Pope of course. Other surrounding county farmers have sold at this Russellville mainstay through the years.

Another notable change was an increase indiversity–fromthefarmersthemselves to the products offered. The Farmer’s Market has grown to reflect the change in our community’s ethnicity. Farmers of different ethnic backgrounds are a welcome addition and will surely keep the Farmer’s Market performing strong into the future, as the population of the River Valley region continues to incorporate families from varied cultural and national backgrounds.

The farmers have been hit pretty hard this year. In early spring there was flooding; that was followed by drought. Such are the whims of Mother Nature, and something that farmers have dealt with from the time that the first soil was turned and the first seeds planted.

Some produce may be in limited supply due to the crazy weather patterns so the best buying strategy is to “get it while the gettin’ is good.” Just because the tables are full on Saturday morning doesn’t mean they will be come Monday or Wednesday. Those are the three days that the Farmer’s Market is open for the summer.

The summer hours are: Saturday 7 a.m. until noon, and Monday and Wednesday 10 a.m. through 1 p.m. The winter Market will start the first week of November and run till the week of Christmas, Saturdays only from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

The Farmer’s Market is located in the parking lot of West Side Church of Christ, 2200 West Main Street in Russellville. Schedule changes or special events for the Farmer’s Market are available on their website, popecountyfarmersmarket.com.

It’s easy to see that the Farmer’s Market is an important part of the local history and culture. As today’s individuals seemingly fly into the future with its promise of faster, bigger and easier, it would be easy to lose track of the simple pleasures that a ripe tomato, fresh from the garden, can provide. It can be easy to forget how the taste of summer can be so completely defined by the sweetness of an August watermelon. And, as we continue to add to the already hectic schedule of our lives, the opportunities to grow one’s own fresh fruit and vegetables seem to slip away from us. Thankfully some folks are keeping these rural southern staples alive and well.

The next time you buy a bag of garden fresh cucumbers or a jar of sweet amber honey from the friendly, smiling folks sitting in the church parking lot, be sure to smile back at them and maybe say, “thanks!”

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Category: Community Commerce

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