It was a red-letter day for the Hillsville Farmers Market on August 9 with Ninth District Congressman Morgan Griffith and Congressional candidate Anthony Flaccavento both visiting in a show of support for the effort.
On Facebook, Market Manager Laura Beth Parnell wrote that elected officials and candidates had been invited during National Farmers Market Week to the Market to see how it is positively impacting Hillsville and Carroll County. In her message, Parnell noted the Market is intended to be an economic driver for local farmers and artisans and a community and a “hub” where people meet neighbors and visit with friends.
“I’m sharing this with you all because of those of us who have never had the opportunity to meet either one of them and are interested in doing so,” wrote Parnell. She said this information had not been shared on the Farmers Market page because it was not a political visit and did not want it to be publicized as such.
“We are not trying to shine a light on them, rather we are inviting them to shine a light on the good people and the good things happening at the Hillsville Farmer’s Market,” Parnell wrote. “And hopefully ensure that we’re in the forefront of their mind as they enact policies/code and vote on funding and other things that may effect our community, our farmers, small business owners and our farmers market.”
Griffith said once he received the invitation from Parnell, he and the staff took a look at their appointment calendar and said they could make it work, which put Hillsville in the midst of a tour in the region that began in Atkins in Smyth County and ended that evening in Roanoke County.
“So, we had the time and we said yep, that is the kind of thing we like to do. If the calendar appointments make sense, then we do it. You can’t always drive a straight line in this district but we were invited and we wanted to come down. I love farmers markets. I go to the one in Salem where I live, on a regular basis. I stop in at some of the others when I’m in town because I happen to have a weakness for peaches,” said Griffith. “I love a good, fresh peach. Even though nobody else in my family eats them, I’ll sneak out of the house in the morning during peach season and go to a farmers market to buy my peaches. It’s a great thing. You keep the money local and it all circulates here and that’s not a bad thing either.”
Griffith said he was excited about recent developments at markets where Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-eligible farmers markets allow recipients to buy fresh local foods. He said he supports the Rural Development program which Hillsville has successfully sought funding from to build the permanent Market building.
“Those are things which I think are important. They help the community long term. The reason farmers markets are important is the bigger ones (vendors) can come and it gives them an opportunity to sell their product. They get a higher dollar and the public gets a lower cost, high-quality product. Everybody wins and that’s a good thing,” Griffith said. “They are not going to take away from the (Southwest Virginia Farmers) Co-op because they are marketing to bigger businesses. They produce good product, too. It’s a way people can maximize their dollar and the small farmers get some additional profit.”
Ninth District Congressional Candidate Anthony Flaccavento said he was interested in visiting the Hillsville Farmers Market for a lot of reasons.
“I’m a big fan, a big advocate of farmers markets. I helped the Abingdon market some 20 years ago now. I’ve helped farmers markets in other regions either get going or get a little bit stronger,” said Flaccavento. “I’ve done nothing, per se, to help the market here in Hillsville, but one of my colleagues, John Lynch (of Silver Maples Farm), is one of the founders of this market. I’m always thrilled when the Chamber of Commerce and downtown merchants are supporters of farmers markets. I think, compared to 20 years ago, a lot of economic development and downtown revitalization people are recognizing farmers markets as being an economic engine and it can be a draw, without a doubt, bringing people in to town. Once in for the market people will spend, for instance in a local restaurant or shop where they need to pick something up.”
He said while farmers markets aren’t the answer to everything they are a key part of rebuilding downtowns and giving more people an opportunity to eat better because of the quality of the products typically available at farmers markets.
“It’s (the formation of a farmers market) usually a combination of some unmet demand, like a food dessert or more middle-income people who want more access to healthy, fresh food combined with farmers looking for additional markets,” Flaccavento said. “That’s been a really important piece. Really, it’s a meeting space for the community. The other thing I like about farmers markets is they are very, very low cost to get going. The Market in Abingdon started in a really out of the way parking lot and we just started. You couldn’t see us from anywhere but we worked hard to let customers know and we built that up.”
He said after a few years, the effort was given a better parking lot and vendors continued and it gained prominence and it outgrew the parking lot.
“A member of the Town Council came up and said, ‘You guys have done a lot for the community and we’d like to give you a pavilion,’ and in a couple of years they built a pavilion and now we have a permanent home,” said Flaccavento. “I think the point is you can start a farmer’s market with little to no capital and you can start at a farmers market as a vendor with minimal investment as well. It is a great place to learn your customer base, test market products whether it’s baked goods or produce or different things and build your supply and demand. It’s essentially an incubator of businesses. Some business incubators in our district have also done a great service for businesses but the fact of the matter is they are much more expensive to get going. Incubators typically have some challenges to get to the point where they can pay for themselves.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave