Clarke County Farmer’s Market Prepares for New Season

Long before the first seeds of spring are planted, the Clarke County Farmer’s Market is busy working behind the scenes making plans for their new season. Thursday night the organization held its 2011 meeting to kick off the new year and begin preparations for their first market of the season. The Clarke County Farmer’s Market is held in the municipal parking lot next to Dollar General in downtown Berryville and has been a welcomed shopping opportunity for “locavores” since its inception in 1996. The market has seen steady growth and in recent years includes approximately 12-14 regular vendors each week with an addition 4 to 6 drop in vendors selling seasonal items.

Market Coordinator, Anita VanSice spoke about the role of the market saying, “Our market is vital to the community as well as to the farmers. It provides an outlet for farmers to sell directly to the consumers and for customers to purchase the freshest items possible.”

Thursday’s meeting was an opportunity for vendors to pick up applications for the market and discuss concerns and challenges that the endeavor faces. When asked about challenges Ms. VanSice responded, “Our biggest challenge is marketing.”

This proved to be a theme for the majority of the discussion during the meeting. While there were several ideas about promoting the market, from brochures to print ads, most centered around signage and the legality of different sign options. In the past the market has used sandwich board signs at key intersections to make drivers aware of the market on Saturday morning. However these signs are technically illegal unless they are placed on private property. Clarke County Zoning Administrator Jesse Russell was on hand at the meeting and helped clarify the issue saying, “If the signs are put up and taken down in a timely manner, the county doesn’t have a problem with them.”

Official signage options have also been put forth by the Berryville Town Council. The Town has started an initiative to have directional signage installed on Route 7 through the Virginia Logos program. The Farmer’s Market was invited to participate in meetings of the Community Improvements Committee to investigate the options. On site Market Manager Art Crow met with the Town Council Community Improvements Committee on behalf of the Market and told the group, “We’re talking about signs at Route 7,” and added, “It’s a lot of money for these signs.”

Cost was a sticking point for the group as they assessed their options for promoting the market. “It’s going to cost us about $2000 dollars to put those signs up and that’s just for one year. Plus we can’t just put them up at Route 7, we have to have additional signs at each turn that add additional cost.” Mr Crow summarized the financial aspect of the idea by framing it against the Farmer’s Market current financial statement saying, “We would essentially be broke right now if we had those signs up last year.”

Opinions were mixed on the cost/value equation of the signage solutions that are currently being reviewed. However everyone agreed that the market needs more traffic. Several volunteers agreed to participate in a marketing committee and further investigate promotional opportunities.

The 2011 season for the Clarke County Farmer’s Market will start the weekend after Mother’s Day (May 14th) and run through October 29th. The market opens Saturday mornings at 8am and closes at 12noon.

Vendors who wish to participate in the market may contact Market Coordinator, Anita VanSice through their website at www.clarkecountyfarmersmarket.com for more information.