Merlene Davis: Farmers markets move closer to urban residents

Two small farmers markets are attempting to address the needs of the elderly and those who lack transportation by placing themselves on the east and west sides of downtown Lexington.

The markets, one that has been in operation for a month and one that will start Saturday, are in areas of limited availability of fresh produce.

The Bluegrass Farmers Market operates one in the parking lot of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, 650 Newtown Pike, from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

Doraine Bailey, site coordinator for that farmers market, said this is the second year that residents have been able to buy fresh produce, jellies and jams at that site.

This year, the market opened July 1 with a couple of farmers and will continue until frost, usually some time in October.

"The produce is grown by the people who are standing behind the table," Bailey said. "It is their stuff from their farm."

That information can reduce some of the unknowns associated with E. coli outbreaks and the recall of large quantities of produce in order to zero in on the bacteria's source, she said. And, obviously, having the farmer living in Fayette and nearby counties means the produce will be fresher than that found in supermarkets.

Unfortunately, that might also mean that the produce will cost a little more.

"When we established the farmers market last year, cost was a complaint," Bailey said. But, she said, vendors at all formal farmers markets will accept vouchers for produce issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the WIC program, geared to pregnant women and children 5 and younger, and through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for senior citizens.

If you establish a relationship with a farmer, you can ask for seconds or blemished produce at a discount price, Bailey said.

"If you are making pickles, you don't need perfect cucumbers," she said. "You are cutting them up anyway."

Because the items are grown locally, the variety won't be the same as that found in stores, Bailey said. Only items in season will be available.

"Last week we had melons and lots of summer squash and cucumbers, banana peppers, green beans and heirloom variety of tomatoes," she said. "Pink, golden and orange."

The newest farmers market, an official designation granted by the agriculture department after certain criteria are met, will open at 8 a.m. Saturday at the pavilion behind Third Street Exchange, 560 East Third Street.

James Coles, executive vice president of the Lexington office of Community Ventures Corp., said he expects at least four farmers at the East End Community Market this weekend.

The market is a result of studies conducted in the East End Small Area Plan, he said. Several agencies have explored the needs of the East End and Third Street corridor, which is seen as a "health food desert," said Coles, who grew up in the area.

One barrier to fresh produce is transportation to fully stocked groceries or to other farmers markets, Coles said.

"This is the community driving this market," he said. "We are facilitating this."

The farmers who have signed on use the organic sustainability approach to farming, which means they are looking at the overall financial cost for their work, for the consumer and for the environment, he said.

"What that means is the market, hopefully, will be as competitive as what you get from the grocer," Coles said. "But I don't know. This is our first one."

The farmers understand the need and the demographics and earning power in the East End, he said. Most of the farmers work five-acre farms.

"It is a small, needful community and small, needful farmers," he said. "Hopefully this market will provide for the needs of both."

Because the area is changing, the data gleaned from this venture will better determine the cash economy of the area and what the community will bear, Coles said.

Help the farmers and help yourself by buying and eating some of their locally grown produce.