MERIDIAN — Event boon for local growers
By Michael Stewart
Earth's Bounty on the first Saturday of each month from April to November is a boon for those who sell fresh produce on Front Street below the 18th Avenue Bridge.
"Earth's Bounty is really good because it brings in more people than we get all week long, plus a lot more," said Ronnie Chatham, president of the Meridian Area Farmers Market.
The event that runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at Singing Brakeman Park is expected to bring in about 40 vendors selling everyone from cane syrup, goat's milk soap, baked goods, plants, crafts and more.
There will be children's activities to include a bouncy house and a man who fashions animal shapes from balloons. Circle S out of Kewanee will be selling catfish and ham and Allen Hunt will perform live.
Presenting sponsor Greater Meridian Health Clinic will provide free glucose and blood pressure screenings.
Judging for the Strawberry Recipe Cook-off will begin at 11 a.m.
Then there are the eight to 10 produce vendors who will be selling tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, corn, potatoes, zucchini, egg plant, cantaloupes, peaches, onions, collards, turnip greens, broccoli and English peas.
From April to November, Monday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., you can find members of the Meridian Area Farmers Market selling their produce below the 18th Avenue bridge.
Chatham said most Meridian residents are not aware that they are there.
"If you could poll 10 people anywhere in Meridian you would find nobody even knows where this place is," Chatham said.
Earth's Bounty, which draws hundreds of attendees, helps boost produce sales for area growers, said Patty Swearingen, Lauderdale County coordinator for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Swearingen and Chatham would like to see more customers at the farmers market during the week, however.
Swearingen said it is increasing difficult for small farmers to make a living and that while Earth's Bounty helps supplement their income, more exposure would be welcome.
According to U.S. Census figures, the number of family farms peaked at 6.8 million in 1935. Today there are about 2.2 million farms in the U.S.
Small growers have a difficult time competing with large commercial operations that make their money by selling large quantities of produce at low prices, Chatham said.
"It's tough. Everything goes up from gasoline to seed to everything it takes to grow the plants and the machinery — everything is going up except the price of the produce," Chatham said.
"Large producers can sell it a lot cheaper and it goes a lot of places," he added. "And the grocery stores know that we are out here, so they bring their prices down and then they go up on the canned goods and other items in the store. They make it harder on us."
Right now, local grown produce includes English peas, new potatoes, broccoli, collards and turnip greens. Area tomatoes should start coming in within the next couple of weeks.
Some of the produce at Earth's Bounty available today was purchased in Alabama or Florida.
"Somebody will come by here and see my sign and they will see it's from Alabama and they won't buy nothing because it's not grown right here in Meridian and yet they will go to a big chain store and buy something that comes from Mexico or California," Chatham said, adding that he sells a lot of his produce to Alabama residents, so it is still helping the local community.
"By purchasing produce from Alabama we are still helping a small farmer," Swearingen said, adding that as the growing season gets in full swing, almost all of the produce sold here will come from the greater Meridian area.
"It is important have a small farmers market that is supported by the community," Swearingen said. "It helps keep them going."