OUR OPINION: Farmers markets arrive with new garden season

Mississippi, a rural state in which thousands of people annually plant vegetable gardens or small patches for a few favorite tomato or pepper varieties, interestingly did not rush to become part of the farmers market movement anchoring the still-expanding “eat local” preference phenomenon nationwide.

That response, however, has gained momentum in many communities during recent years, and two Northeast Mississippi towns this week were selected to receive incentive funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission to more firmly link farmers markets and economic growth.

New Albany and Aberdeen were selected from among 63 applicants in the ARC multi-state region for grants up to $20,000 to enhance farmers markets and their potential in parallel with a strong planning process.

The “Livable Communities” grants were delivered to Mississippi in timely announcements this week signaling the start of the summer farmers market and gardening seasons.

Tupelo’s Downtown Farmers’ Market at the crossing of the BNSF and KCS railroads on Spring Street will open Saturday at 6 a.m. with the earliest produce from the gardens of marketers.

The Tupelo market, like some others, has some farmers from across the region, and others are more narrowly focused on specific communities.

A celebratory Feast for the Farmers at 7 p.m. Friday benefits the market. Tickets are required for the event; call (662) 841-6598 to check availability.

The market itself, which usually is open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, is free for browsing and has individual vendors handling transactions.

Some of the farmers market vendors are organic farmers, but others embrace modern fertilizers and pesticides in producing their crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is launching its annual updating process for the USDA National Farmers Market Directory, and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture maintains a similar directory with addresses and locations:

http://www.mdac.state.ms.us/departments/ms_farmers_market/farmers-markets-in-mississippi.asp

http://www.usdadirectoryupdate.com/FM_Portal_Public.aspx

More than 8,100 markets across the nation participate, and most states have several markets.