On Saturday May 3rd, the new Community Farmers' Market of Owen County (CFMOC) will open at the Courthouse Square in Spencer Indiana, realizing the dream of many Owen County growers and residents. The weekly market will be open each Saturday from 8 am to noon for 26 weeks, through October 25th, 2008.
The Community Farmers' Market of Owen County will feature produce from local food vendors, as well as entertainment and jury-selected arts and crafts. Its mission, written by Owen County residents, will be "to provide local producers and their neighbors a gathering place that fosters the connection between our food, our culture, our land and our environment."
"I'm told that back in the early days of Owen County there was fur-trading on our Courthouse Square," says Gwen Dieter, of the Owen County Soil and Water Conservation District. "Like so many other places, we are returning to that idea of a community market, a place where neighbors can gather."
Dieter also understands the power of eco-tourism, having moved to Owen County from Indianapolis years ago, drawn to the area by its geographical beauty. Now she is the market master of the 2008 CFMOC, a job that will entail rising early on Saturday mornings, staffing an information table, and encouraging growers to become vendors.
The Owen County Soil and Water Conservation District has been instrumental in bringing the project to fruition. "Our board of supervisors recognized that a farmers' market would provide many positive environmental benefits to our area, while bringing a unique development opportunity to local producers. Sometimes just a little garden plot on the side can make a big difference in the economic life of a farm family."
Support has also come from many other groups and individuals, including Bloomingfoods. "In a small community like this you have many ties, and when we started asking around we found that the idea of a farmers' market met with overwhelming support," Dieter observes. "It was almost as if we were just waiting for one little thunderbolt to start up the process."
In July 2007 a Rural Entrepreneurs Network Workshop was held for potential vendors, and at a second public meeting in August a guest speaker from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture described other markets across the state. By September 2007 a steering committee of nine members was formed.
The steering committee met with Marcia Veldman from the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market, exploring practical options for operations. They crafted rules and regulations, addressed legal and insurance issues, and composed by-laws to achieve not-for-profit status. Grants were written and start-up support received from the Owen County Community Foundation and the South Central Indiana REMC.
Patty Steward, human resources manager for Bloomingfoods, is a member of the steering committee. A resident of Owen county who lives on her family farm, Steward has been involved with producing local food her entire lifetime. She has been active in the local 4-H program since childhood, and is an elected member of the Owen County Council.
Like Dieter, Steward is thrilled that the new market will bring good local food to consumers while providing an economic boost to producers in Owen County. "The added bonus is that the market will be a fun meeting place for the community and friends, right in downtown Spencer."
"The CFMOC is the result of many people with diverse talents and interests coming together to share their skills, think outside the box, and build a common vision. We've had the support of the Owen county commissioners, our local Farm Bureau, the Extension office, and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) of Owen Valley High School," Steward explains.
"This market is a labor of love for a lot of people here," echoes Dieter. "To me, it's been an honor to work so closely with people who care so much about their community. You hear a lot about people being divisive - that always makes the news - but with this project we've seen so many people and organizations come together for the benefit of the whole. The new market truly represents a dream come true."