Farmers Market on wheels

Published 10:02 pm Thursday, October 6, 2016

Polk County commissioners approved a resolution Monday night to donate the Polk County Public Library’s Bookmobile to Growing Rural Opportunities for the first mobile farmers market in Polk County and western North Carolina. The bus, which has been operational for 24 years, will be outfitted with a refrigerator, repaired generator and freezer for local food and McLendon expects the mobile market to be operational by January. (Photo by Michael O’Hearn)

Polk County commissioners approved a resolution Monday night to donate the Polk County Public Library’s Bookmobile to Growing Rural Opportunities for the first mobile farmers market in Polk County and western North Carolina. The bus, which has been operational for 24 years, will be outfitted with a refrigerator, repaired generator and freezer for local food and McLendon expects the mobile market to be operational by January. (Photo by Michael O’Hearn)

Polk approves donation of Bookmobile to Growing Rural Opportunities

COLUMBUS – Polk County commissioners approved a resolution to donate Polk County Public Library’s Bookmobile to Growing Rural Opportunities (GRO).

Patrick McLendon, executive director of Growing Rural Opportunities, attended the commissioners’ Oct. 3 meeting and asked commissioners to approve the proposal to convert the library’s Bookmobile into a mobile farmers market, the first of its kind in western North Carolina.

The resolution states that under N.C. General Statute 160A-280, a county can donate any personal property that is deemed to be surplus, obsolete or unused to a nonprofit organization.

“The Bookmobile bus would be mildly converted and changed into a mobile farmers market,” McLendon said in his proposal to commissioners. “Its setup currently lends itself well to becoming a mobile market. Plans include repainting or wrapping the bus, updating some of the electrical system to accommodate a freezer and refrigerator and repairing the onboard generator. The bus will also eventually be used for support of the current Polk County Farmers Markets by housing equipment for market activities such as cooking demonstrations and children’s activities.”

GRO is a 501c-3 organization founded to support agriculture in the Polk County area, and McLendon said the organization would like to expand the ability for local food to reach new communities, and added that incorporating food pantry options in conjunction with the Thermal Belt Outreach is also planned for the vehicle.

“There are many programs similar to this across the country but, as often is the case, Polk County would be leading the way by offering the region’s first mobile market,” McLendon explained in his proposal. “In addition to the actual sale of products, the mobile market can provide marketing and powerful presentation of agriculture in our community and lead more consumers to purchase local food. Access is often an issue cited as a reason for lower local food sales, and by putting food on the road that detriment can be eliminated.”

The Bookmobile is a 1992 Ford custom-built motor vehicle that offered a free service to all residents of Polk County through a variety of books ranging from fiction to large print materials. Rishara Finsel, library director, said she thinks it is great to see the vehicle be repurposed as a market and said the vehicle had been in use for 24 years.

“We’ve had the Bookmobile off the road for about a year now because of the generator not working,” Finsel said. “That was a big deciding factor. We also saw a decline in people using the Bookmobile, so it’s great to see the vehicle be put to good use. If people want to see it be used as a last hoorah, it will be used as more book sale space this month.”

Finsel said although the Bookmobile will be donated to GRO after the book sale later this month, a similar book delivery program is underway for residents of Polk County who are homebound and cannot get to the library. An application for this program can be found by calling 828-894-8721 ext. 225 or visiting polklibrary.org/homebound.

Dawn Jordan is the executive director of agricultural economic development in Polk County and said the donation is a collaboration of government and nonprofits in support of agriculture.

“It’s a great example of collaboration with public and private ownership and government and nonprofits supporting agriculture,” Jordan said. “Agriculture has a long-standing history here in Polk County, and as far as with the markets it gives the vendors, the farmers themselves, another outlet for their product and it will also give them seasonal outlet which we currently don’t have on a large scale.”

Jordan explained Polk County has three farmers markets on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, which leaves four other days during the week that product comes out.

“This will allow for another moving opportunity for products and growers to get their products out,” Jordan said. “When product is coming out of the field or anywhere, it needs to move and the product needs to move seven days a week.”

McLendon said he hopes to have the vehicle converted into a mobile market by January after installing the refrigerator and freezer system. He said Vision Screen Printing out of Greenville, S.C. and Carolina Farm Credit, which gave McLendon a $5,000 grant for the project, are helping with funding the conversion process.

“We had studied some other mobile markets across the nation and one mobile market out of Spartanburg,” McLendon explained following the meeting. “There’s a really popular mobile market in Washington, D.C. and we reviewed their program. Mobile markets are really popular around the U.S. The goal of the market is to get food to places that don’t already have access to markets like communities such as Green Creek and Sunny View. We also want to introduce local food to people who don’t typically go to the farmers market and give them good quality, local food.”