Keeping it Fresh: Greenup County Farmers Market Thrives

Kevin Compton

    Dawn is breaking on a mid-summer’s morning and the parking lot of the Advance Memorial United Methodist Church in Flatwoods is already abuzz with activity. But it isn’t a Sunday morning and the bold scent of fresh produce mixed with sweet smells of baked good are indicators that the gathered crowd has arrived early for reasons other than pew positioning.
    The Greenup County Farmers Market has been located at the church since the market’s inception in 2004. Linda Hieneman remembers those early years well and has been part of the market’s transformation and growth. Seventeen years ago, Hieneman started work as the Greenup County Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Early in her tenure, Hieneman established the Greenup Master Gardener Program to meet an increase in requests from home gardeners for horticultural information.
    The Master Gardner program started with no more than five gardeners, and one of the first tasks the group set out to tackle was the establishment of a farmers market in Greenup County. “They wanted a place where individual farmers could sell produce to the community,” Hieneman said. Hieneman worked with the gardeners to find the perfect location for the market and Advance United has proven a successful partner throughout the market’s 14 years.
    The market started small. “In the first couple of years, it was two older gentlemen farmers who kept the market going,” Hieneman recalled. Today, the Saturday market averages nine vendors and accommodates 300 to 400 visitors.
    Larger crowds and more vendors are not the only changes from the market’s early years. There is more variety at today’s market. “It went from only traditional crops to vendors selling breads and jams and jellies,” Hieneman said. This year also saw the addition of artisans offering jewelry and artwork.
    “There has always been a loyal base (at the Greenup market), but we are seeing an increase in participants coming to market,” Hieneman said of the growing crowds. “We have a local food movement going on. People want to know where their food is coming from.”
    Even with the growth and changes, there is some continuity with the market’s earliest days. One of the original master gardeners who helped establish the market is a current vendor and despite expanded variety, the most popular items at the market remain the traditional standbys of corn, green beans and tomatoes.
    The market maintains a committee that establishes rules for those who wish to participate. “They want to sustain the market,” Hieneman said. “They want to be honest about how (the market) is presented and offer products that’s as fresh as possible.” It is encouraged for participants to grow their own products, but one market rule dictates that if an item is not homegrown it must be clearly listed as a resell item. Those who want to sell must agree to the committee’s guidelines and register at the extension office.
    Hieneman encourages vendors to consider the appearance of their displays. She even worked with Anne Stephens, the extension’s arts agent, to offer a demonstration class on how to attractively display goods.
    Many grocery stores are open 24 hours a day, which makes a visit to a farmers market as much of an event as a shopping experience. “It’s a great place to go and interact with the farmers that are growing those crops,” Hieneman said. “A relationship forms.” Hieneman said knowing who produces your food has many advantages “The rule on ‘local’ at grocery stores can be kind of gray,” Hieneman said. “Local can mean 250 miles away.” Not so when one knows the area’s farmers. “These products are some of the freshest we can get,” Hieneman said. “They are also the most nutritious when they’re at their freshest peak.” Summer is waning. Get them before they’re gone.
    The market is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. until sell-out. For more information concerning the Greenup County Farmers Market call the extension office at 606.836.0201.