For the Love of the Farmers Market 

Published 11:21 pm Sunday, June 9, 2019

Letter to the editor: 

I have had the privilege to be born and raised in Polk County. I was born the 5th generation of my family’s farm here in Polk County. I was raised and taught by parents and grandparents who made it very clear that you have to stand up for what is right and do your best to always do the right thing!   

Now I know what you’re thinking, this sounds like a cliché and/or the Aaron Tippin Song but it was how I was raisedNow my papa was never one to stand aside or back down when it came to what he believed in and what was best for our community. He was a career Air Force, the police chief at one point and ran for county commissioner several times. A lot of people believed he didn’t when because the powers that be knew he was not one to compromise his beliefs and integrity to follow suit. But you better believe he attended every county meeting he could and voiced his opinion when need be. 

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So I guess I get my boldness and bluntness honestly. It has been handed down on both sides of my family. I have always had lots of pride about being born and raised in our small rural agricultural community.  But what makes my heart smile is seeing the love a support shown to our local Farmers Market on Saturday Mornings! I have been a vendor of the past 5 years and over the past year and some months I have seen a huge change in our market. A change for the GOOD! 

I have watched our market go from a tents and table operation that you just happen to notice when driving through town, to a thriving market that is promoted all over social media and in the Bulletin. As a vendor, I am super excited for this change as it means that I, along with other small local farmers are able to make a living or at least contribute to our families and keep our farms going!  

Erika McMillan was welcome change that was very much needed. A year ago when she was hired she jumped into her new job with both feet! She immediately began to promote the market and find activities to give our patrons and engaging market experience. She planned fun kids activities to make the market more family friendly which included an obstacle course,  t-shirt market bags, the kids scavenger hunts, planting seeds, baby goats and the fall festival with all the games for the kids to play and trick or treat the market. 

She brought the adults the full market experience with “market like a chef”, where patrons were able to learn how to cook a whole meal from products offered at the market. She brought in music for entertainment and in simple terms encouraged the Community Feel” the market was missing.  

Erika McMillan from day one has stood for the farmers, with the farmers, and by the farmers! It is exciting to me as a farmer to finally have someone working for us and supporting us by letting the public know of our local gem waiting for them on Saturday Mornings! Columbus Farmers Market is where locals and visitors alike can purchase in season veggies, jams, honey, meat, seasoning and gifts from local crafters and artisans. 

Another thing Erika did was to get the young entrepreneur program started. As a result my son has built his own business with his worm garden and composting. By him doing this it is teaching him valuable skills that he will be able to build on and use throughout his life and this program will encourage and ensure a the next generation of farmers. 

In the past year under Erika’s guidance our market has grown to rival even the bigger markets in larger surrounding counties but still maintains that close community feel. This is an awesome accomplishment. If you look back at what the farmers market was like two years ago, you would be shocked at the changes and the growth. 

This year, our Market was able to thrive through the winter due to the collaborative efforts of Erika McMillian, her committee and the owners of the Rural Seed Restaurant. Yes there has been a winter market in the past but it mainly consisted of 2 or 3 farmers who mostly do pre orders. It was never promoted so it made it not worth all the work for most of us to come set up. Thanks to Erika and her collaborative efforts with the Rural Seed we were able to have a thriving winter market. 

Grow Rural is the Non-profit organization that supports the farmers market. Thanks to Erika McMillan and the Farmers Market Committee, the Market has become a Saturday destination for many. McMillan has kept us farmers and the community in the loop with facebook promotions, announcements and sending out detailed emails about what is coming or happing at market. 

Last year when the weather and flooding did so much damage and smany farms suffered, Erika and her volunteer committee pulled together a breakfast and silent action to raise money to help the smaller farms get back on their feet. She has given ALL of us small farmers, not just some, the support, info and promotion that has been lacking over the years. She has also worked very hard by letting community know “hey we are here”. 

Polk County prides itself on being an agricultural community. So much so that Polk County High School has its own farm and has an agricultural course of study! So as a farmer, vendor and Polk County citizen, I would like to know why is it that our local Columbus Farmers Market is funded by a non-profit and not supported by our county? Why is the grow rural director and farmers market manager having to write grants to pay for their salary and get the funding needed to keep promoting and building up our market and local farmers, instead of being supported by the county? 

Our elected county officials have said many times that they are proud of our agricultural community and our heritage as one, but they don’t allocate any money to the farmers market or the person working for the small farmers like myself at the market.   

As of today, 6/5/19 a post was made on Facebook about an investigation into the Farmers Market and the management and handling, I do not know how to respond to this, other than to say that the thriving market and the numbers presented at the county commissioners meeting a few weeks ago speak for themselves as to how the farmers market is being managed and our market is thriving and continuing to grow.   



Jessica Foster Clark 

5th Generation Polk Farmer