The title of one of 2009's box office hits could be just as readily applied to the homegrown fruit and vegetable phenomenon: "It's complicated."
No, homegrown production isn't making small-scale growers fabulously rich, but it's is lending them a helping hand, and, perhaps even more significant, it's changing the American commercial and dietary landscape in ways scarcely imagined only a few years ago.
Few people better appreciate this than Jimmy Jones, coordinator of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Henry County. As chairman of his local farmers market committee, Jones has helped foster the growth of Headland's local market primarily as a way to assist local vegetable growers and area businesses.
And it's working.
"It really is a win/win scenario all around," says Jones, who stresses that, contrary to popular opinion, markets don't undermine businesses or local retail grocery outlets.
"It actually augments them," he says, adding that the local groceries have actually cited enhanced business from consumers who purchase grocery items to go along with the fruits and vegetables purchased at the farmers market.
"It's keeping money in local circulation and it's also helping small-town America."
But it's sparked something even bigger.
Kerry Smith, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System's home grounds co-leader, says the emerging statewide presence of farmers markets is also fostering a change of mindset — making food more valuable in a way she and other gardening experts scarcely imagined.
"It's increasing the value of food but not necessarily in terms of its dollar value," she says. "It's driving home the reality of food — where it comes from and that there are people out there equipped to grow it for consumers."
Smith believes farmers markets and the home-gardening phenomenon in general also have the potential of instilling healthier eating habits.
"Often in retail environments, people tend to walk past fresh produce," she says. "But, with farmers markets, you get a person behind the produce who can talk about it.
"Consumers often come away with a deeper appreciation of how the produce affects them, but equally important, they're also provided with a better grasp of the whole value behind fresh-grown fruits and vegetables," she says.
For Smith and Jones, that's why the issue is complicated — the value of fresh-grown produce expresses itself in so many diverse ways, they say.
Jones worked with other Headland community leaders to secure a Rural Community and Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover some of the costs of building and marketing the farmers market.
"As Extension educators, I see our main expertise in forming collaborative relationships with City Council members and Chamber of Commerce officials to build these markets," he says, adding that Extension professionals are involved in almost every facet of farmers market planning and execution.
Jones says he and other Extension educators throughout the state have worked with producers and local civic leaders to experiment with different approaches to markets.
His committee established a rule from the outset that only produce and products grown within the Wiregrass region could be sold at the Headland market. Headland is one of about 8 to 10 markets functioning throughout the Wiregrass region.
Also, as a standard practice to avoid undercutting, the markets coordinate times among each other. Headland's market is currently open Fridays from 3 to 7. Others open Saturday and at other times during the week.
"Most people in Headland are hourly workers, who typically get paid on Friday — the reason we decided to open our market on that day," he says, adding that stay-at-home and working mothers concerned about wholesome food for their family have also emerged as avid customers.
"A lot of thought already has gone into this, and it's as much about serving consumers with quality produce as it is about providing a place for small vegetable growers to sell their products," Jones says.
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