Valdosta Daily Times

Business

April 27, 2014

Downtown Valdosta Farm Days return

VALDOSTA — May is almost here, and along with rising temperatures and almost daily afternoon showers, the return of Downtown Valdosta Farm Days is coming along with it.

Valdosta’s Farm Days event got its start in 2010 when Valdosta City Council member James Wright brought the idea to fellow council members.

The city decided to make the event a goal and looked at similar events in other Georgia towns for resources and ideas. The City of Valdosta launched the first run of Farm Days in 2011.

The response was greater than anticipated.

“It went far beyond what our expectations were,” said Ellen Hill, Valdosta Main Street program coordinator. “The community really embraced us.”

Every year, Farm Days has changed and grown. Local chefs have performed live cooking demonstrations, using ingredients that were available at the Farm Day. Education has become a larger component, teaching people how to grow and cook their food.

By the second year, after talking with vendors and farmers, the Valdosta Main Street team decided to expand to every June Saturday, giving farmers more days to sell during peak seasons. That same year, organizers closed Valley Street to make room for the growing number of Farm Days vendors.

Last year, the local health department obtained a USDA grant to fund the purchase of a card machine that takes EBT, debit and credit cards.

This year, live music will be added to several Farm Days.

A mobile market is being developed for next year. It would bring fresh food into underserved communities and food deserts, places where fresh food isn’t readily available.

The produce would come from local farmers and from Pine Grove schools which have been growing crops.

“We’re hoping it’ll be within the next year,” Hill said. “I think we’re close. The trailer is built and ready to go. We just need to get the produce built up enough.”

Farm Days take place May through October, every first and third Saturday of the month. June is an exception; in June, every Saturday is a Farm Day.

One other exception is the first Saturday in August, long used by the 100 Black Men of Valdosta for the 100 Black Men Barbecue.

The process for becoming a Farm Days vendor is simple. There’s a short, two-page application you fill out online at www.valdostamainstreet.com.

Along with that, there’s a $25 application fee. After that, the Valdosta Main Street staff processes it and sends you a letter letting you know if you meet the guidelines.

“It has to be local. We don’t want you to resale anything; you have to grow it yourself or make it yourself.”

Farm Days vendors generally break down into three categories: Fresh produce, foodstuffs — from jams and jellies to hot food ready to eat, and arts and crafts.

“We try to keep (arts and crafts) in that outdoor-garden-food theme,” said Hill.

Artists and crafters in the past have offered homemade birdhouses, ergonomic garden implements and tools, soaps and leather goods, among other items.

The application is good for the entire run of Farm Days this year, whether you plan on coming to one Farm Day or every Farm Day. As long as there’s space available, the Valdosta Main Street office takes vendor applications, throughout the year, but it’s not something you want to delay. While vendor space has never ran out, the number of vendors has been growing every year.

“Comfortably, without crowding everyone, I’d say we have space for 35-45 vendors. But, there’s always room to grow.”

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