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Demand for fresh produce growing

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News,Business,Food and Drink

MADISON, Miss. (AP) — Even on a cool, blustery day in March, you can buy fresh veggies that herald spring at Sarah Cote's Fresh Magnolia Market in Gluckstadt.

This week, she's selling famous Vardaman-grown sweet potatoes, tomatoes free of pesticides and chemicals, crisp English cucumbers, and fresh eggs and milk from a local dairy.

"We source it from farmers all over Mississippi," Cote says of what she sells. "We don't use any distributors."

Her customers, Cote says, want to know where their produce and fresh foods are coming from, how long they've traveled, and how many hands have touched them.

"People are more and more going to fresh and they're researching what they're putting into their bodies," she said.

Those are among reasons residents of Madison County are clamoring for a city-sponsored farmers market, Cote and others say.

The city of Madison is putting out a call for vendors interested in becoming a ready source for locally grown fresh foods in its first farmers market set to open this summer. Cote is among those stepping forward to sell their wares.

"Without dependable, quality vendors, we cannot have a successful market," said Robin McCrory, director of business and downtown development for Madison.

Madison wants to open a weekly market by the Red Caboose on Main Street to provide a place for growers to sell their goods and residents to pick up fresh, tasty, nutritious fruits and vegetables.

It would join other successful farmers markets around the area.

Madison needs a ready list of suppliers to bring their homegrown goodness to meet the growing demand from local residents.

At the meeting next week, producers and vendors will help determine what will work for the times for the market, the day of the week and hours of operation. Produce could come from gardeners who want to sell the abundance from their backyard plots or those who farm for a living and are looking to sell close to home.

"The market would act as a catalyst to promote the growth and development in our Depot District," McCrory said. "This would bring people downtown, make it a place to gather."

That's what Clinton's Olde Towne Market did for the city's historical district, said Main Street Clinton manager Tara Lytal, who spearheaded creation of that market seven years ago.

Hundreds flock to the markets that feature fresh produce and made-in-Mississippi products held every other Saturday, late spring through early fall. They also feature local entertainers such as guitarist and vocalist Ralph Miller.

The market has grown to include a second component, "Fresh at Five," held every Tuesday evening during the peak growing season.

"Main Street worked with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture to start the market, and we sent letters to hundreds of growers in eight counties near Clinton," Lytal said. "We also put out a call for vendors in the Mississippi Farm bulletin and in local newspapers."

Lytal said she asked for input from the community through social media and local publicity and set a reasonable vendor fee — $10 per market — to ensure participation wasn't cost-prohibitive.

"The markets have been great for the community," she said. "People look forward to the start of market season."

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler said numerous residents have asked the city to start a farmers market. With the city's work to grow the Depot District on Main Street, now is a perfect time to open one, she said.

"A farmers market would bring an old-fashioned flavor to our history district," Butler said. "The market would be the beginning of a lot more to come as we develop the Depot District."

Madison County resident Robert Cotten, owner of Cotten Farm, is in the mix of vendors. Cotten grows both yellow and red watermelon, broccoli, kale, greens and purple-hull peas on three and a half acres, with plans to add pumpkins this fall and eventually expand by six acres.

"We're meeting the growing need for healthy living," said Cotten, whose family farm dates to 1898. "Our main focus is home-grown watermelon. We do a pretty good job there."

Besides fruits and vegetables, the Madison market could be a source for fresh-cut flowers and specialty, homemade bakery items along with jams, jellies, preserves and sauces. Arts and crafts items will not be included in the market.

Although Cote runs her own market business, she said a city-sponsored farmers market wouldn't spell competition.

"It would be a great thing both for the city and the farmers," she said. "It's good for us because it supports our local farmers. We need them to grow so that we can sell their products."

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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