Polk farmers market hosts 51 weeks per year 

Published 10:26 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

Commissioners hear data on last year of farmers markets 


COLUMBUS—The Polk County Board of Commissioners heard from several farmers this week on the importance of the farmers market, including one young farmer, who sells compost and worm tea on Saturdays 

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Commissioners met Monday and heard from six local farmers and residents and Growing Rural Opportunities Chair Frank Lilly, who gave an update on the last year of the farmers market.  

The presentation from farmers began with 9-year Jayvin Clark.  

“I help my mom with her business and I sell my compost and worm tea from my very own worm garden,” Clark told commissioners. “The farmers market has allowed me to make many new friends and teach people about worm composting. My worm garden helped me make enough money to buy my very own tablet and save money for the future.”  

Clark said the farmers market allows his mom to sell her products to make sure he and his brother and sisters have what they need and they spend Saturdays helping their customers and friends. He also said his family buys their groceries from fellow farmers.  

“I would like to say thank you for all your support to our farmers market,” Clark said. “My family and I love our market and we hope to see it continue.” 

Lilly gave an update on the farmers market from April 1, 2018 through March 1, 2019. Lilly said since the hiring of Erika McMillan, the farmers market has collected incredible data.  

Polk County’s farmers markets operate 51 weeks of the year, including in the winter months at the Rural Seed Restaurant in Columbus on Saturdays. The spring and summer markets operate in front of the Polk County Courthouse in Columbus as well as in Saluda and Tryon.  

Lilly said during the time frame of a little less than a year, there were 81 markets scheduled and 76 markets actually hosted. He said 56 small businesses support the farmers market and there are nine local youth entrepreneurs.  

There were 157 EBT transactions last year and the farmers market gained over 1 million hits from unpaid print and social media promoting the farmers market, he said 

There are 59 local farms that are supported by the farmers market, Lilly said.  

The summer market averages 35 vendors per week for 32 Saturdays and the winter market averages 15 vendors per week, with a waiting list, Lilly said.  

“The economic impact to all the vendors as a group was over $300,000,” Lilly said.  

The demographics of the vendors includes 68 percent agricultural products, 26 percent value added products, 10 percent baked goods and 19 percent artisan homestead crafts; with some vendors selling in dual categories.  

“The small business impact is great,” Lilly said. “I see it every Saturday. It’s an incredible distribution point for farm products. We’ve seen several small businesses all year launch their business there.”  

Commissioner Chair Tommy Melton asked for an update on the bus, which was a mobile unit launched last year through a grant.  

“The mobile market was not as successful as we thought,” Lilly said.  

He said the bus was intended to serve various communities. McMillan said the bus will now serve as an office and there are plans now for pop-up markets around the county, which will be one-day type markets in different locations throughout the county.  

Commissioner Myron Yoder asked if the market is bigger now than it ever has been.  

Lilly responded that it is and it is growing. He said thanks to Rural Seed, they now have a building for the winter market and they have vendors who want to get in there.  

McMillan said last year’s winter market had three vendors and this year they have 15 and a waiting list.  

Commissioner Paul Beiler said in 2008 his father was killed in a car accident and in 2008 and 2009 his mother sold baked goods at the farmers market as a way for her to support herself until something else came along.  

“So, (the farmers market) is very personal to me,” Beiler said.  

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he is on the agriculture advisory board and the last two meetings have been very well attended with discussions on how to make the farmers market sustainable.  

“It’s absolutely vital to this county,” Gasperson said. “Our 20/20 Vision Plan emphasizes agriculture. I’m excited to see growth continue. It certainly contributes greatly to tourism.”