Celebrating Community:
Whitley County Farmers’ Market

 The Whitley County Farmers' Market is celebrating its 7th anniversary this year with a record 45 vendors selling at three locations across the southeastern Kentucky Appalachian county.

"I just think it is amazing to see how this community farmers' market has grown," said Sandi Curd, the market president.  "Just seven years ago the market was just three or four vendors set up under a carport for four weeks during the summer -  what a difference seven years has made."

Curd explained that as the market has added producers, the diversity of products offered at the market has increased. This diversity has allowed the market to expand the length of its season each year, and this year the market opened in early spring and will continue till mid-October providing fresh local produce to consumers.  In an effort to help meet the customer demands and the producer's schedules, the market has also expanded to three days a week in three locations across the county.

"Our flagship location in Goldbug, on the campus of our cooperative extension agency, takes place on Saturday," explained Curd. "We also have the downtown Corbin market on Tuesday evening and the downtown Williamsburg market on Wednesday evening."

 Responding to opportunity

Seeing an opportunity for significant growth on the horizon led a group of market leaders to come together in the fall of 2012 to begin the process of creating a formal entity.  Their efforts, along with assistance provided by KCARD, led to the incorporation of the Whitley County Farmers' Market, Inc., in spring of 2013.

The original steering committee met with KCARD business development specialist Nathan Routt in the fall of 2012 to discuss potential business structures and the benefits of legal incorporation.  Through the course of that winter, additional meetings were held to draft bylaws and articles of incorporation and discuss cooperative principles that became the basis for incorporating under Kentucky's cooperative statute.

"I credit the wisdom of members of that initial steering committee with realizing a need to legally incorporate in order to grow the market", stated Routt.  "I'm encouraged and happy to see that the cooperative structure has served its members well by helping the market realize exceptional growth and succeed along the way."    

While Curd was not on the original board of directors at the time of formation, she credits the dedication of those volunteers for the success of the market.

"It has taken the commitment of producers like Ally and Bob Lynch of Jumbuck Farm who have given of their time to make sure this farmers' market was a community market," said Curd. "It is that community spirit, that attention to the customer and producer, that has been instrumental in helping the market not just grow, but flourish in our community."

Curd explained that when the market incorporated, the board of directors decided that to provide diversity at the market and grow the three locations it was time to look beyond the county borders and accept applications from producers in adjoining counties.  Along with Whitley County farmers, the market now welcomes producers from McCreary, Knox, Bell, and Laurel Counties in Kentucky and Claiborne and Campbell County, Tennessee. Reaching out to surrounding counties has allowed the market to grow to their record 45 members, and the board has hopes of reaching 50 members by the end of the season.

"We do not have 45 members at each location, and some of our vendors have a very limited season," explained Curd. "This means we might only have 12 vendors at each location even during the main summer season, so we still have a lot of room for growth in our market."  

Business plan initiated

It is the desire to continue to grow their market that made the Whitley County Farmers Market board of directors  to turn again to KCARD for assistance. Curd remembers meeting Nathan for the first time in December 2013 when he provided business planning training for farmers markets as a part of a Community Farm Alliance event in Eastern Kentucky. Soon after that meeting, Nathan began working with the board of directors to develop a business plan for their market.

"We had people on our board with a business background and others with agriculture, and Nathan was that bridge between the two perspectives and he helped us really look at our options and gave us input based on his background," said Curd. "Our work with Nathan at KCARD led us to learn more about the grant assistance program and opportunities we could apply for to expand our marketing efforts,"

This past spring the Whitley County Farmers Market board applied for a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, and turned to KCARD's team for assistance once again. 

"The Agribusiness Grant Facilitation Program is designed to help Kentucky people just like the Whitley County Farmers Market," said Myrisa Christy, coordinator of KCARD's Agribusiness Grant Facilitation Program (AGFP).  The AGFP, funded by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, allows KCARD to assist producers and agribusiness in Kentucky seek out, apply for, and receive funding.  "It was great to work with Whitley County Farmers Market on their application.  They were very dedicated to the application process and are obviously very devoted to growing their cooperative."

"I think I might have thrown the towel in on the grant if it wasn't for the knowledge and assistance from Nathan and Myrisa," laughed Curd.  "I was on the phone with Myrisa at 7:30 the night we submitted the application having her walk me through the online submission process. I was just so impressed with her dedication, it was a pleasure to work with her, to work with them both."

Curd says they hope to hear soon if they were funded for the grant, but until then she and the entire team at the Whitley County Farmers Market are focused on making this summer season the best yet for the market.  Along with the great fresh local foods at the market, the market is hosting special events and activities at the markets to enhance the community experience.

At the Saturday farmers market this summer customers have had a chance to view a classic car exhibit, a dog herding exhibit, and take part in classes on how to make your own rain barrels. Curd explained that a Taste of the Market event is scheduled for the downtown market in Corbin this summer to give customers a chance to try local meats and seasonal vegetables from the market vendors.

"Our market is focused on our community. We want our residents to come out and get to know our farmers, we want to help our farmers stay on the farm to provide our community with wonderful fresh local products, and I think as a market we are helping bring together our community," said Curd.  "We have been lucky to have a dynamic organization such as KCARD to help us grow and look at ways to make our market strong for our community."