Editor’s note: The following post is by Heifer International Arkansas Project Manager for the USA Seeds of Change project, Senchel Matthews.
On November 17, 2012, the small community of Hughes, Arkansas, held its very first farmer’s market. Several participants in Heifer International’s Seeds of Change project participated in the special event.
Residents and volunteers were up before sunrise to start preparations for the day’s big event. The cold crisp air did not stop the Heifer 4-H Youth club, which consists of 16 members, from coming out energized and ready to work.
As tables and tents popped up and fresh produce and goods were unloaded, I looked on with amazement as the blank canvas of land designated for the Hughes Holiday Farmer’s Market was transformed right before my eyes. Vendors arrived one by one, until all 11 were ready to sell their bounty of fruits, vegetables, handmade soaps, cakes, jams, honey and cupcakes. The “bounce house” and slide, which initially looked like a mass of colorful plastic, magically grew to a size larger-than-life and served as a magnet for children from the community.
The once quiet space was flooded with sweet music from the DJ who guaranteed me that before the day was over many patrons would dance while purchasing their goods and treats. He did not lie. Before I knew it I was engaged in a line dance with residents from the community.
I had the honor of talking with vendors about their fall growing experience and how many of them decided to venture into value-added goods such as turning tomatoes into spaghetti sauce and salsa or transforming zucchini into a delicious fluffy bread. I overheard patrons ask vendors questions about their produce and comment on how delicious the blueberry jam and soybean honey looked.
A few of the Arkansas Seeds of Change Delta Coalition members came out and showed their support through words of encouragement and purchases. The environment was teeming with activity and chatter. Hughes’ residents came out with their families and left with food and new acquaintances. Before the music stopped and the first table was broken down, inquires where made about when the next farmer’s market would take place. Since the nearest grocery store is 36 miles away, many residents were relieved to have access to fresh goods at the market before the Thanksgiving holiday.
As I packed up my bags of peppers, pak choi, kale, carrots, soaps and zucchini bread, I was approached by a lady who has lived in Hughes all her life. She walked up to me and gave me a hug and said “Thank you! We really needed this.” Little did she know I was the one thankful for having one of the best and tastiest Saturday’s of my life.
Heifer International’s Seeds of Change project works in Arkansas and Appalachia to help low-income Americans through sustainable agriculture.