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Farmers market provides supplementary income to area growers

By ALLISON MILES
June 18, 2011 at 1:18 a.m.

Jerry Martin weighs some squash for a customer at the Farmers Market. For many participating producers, the market provides supplemental income.

DID YOU KNOW ...?

The number of farmers markets nationwide has seen a steady increase through the years. Here's a closer look at the number of operating markets:

1994: 1,755

1996: 2,410

1998: 2,746

2000: 2,863

2002: 3,137

2004: 3,706

2006: 4,385

2008: 4,685

2009: 5,274

2010: 6,132

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service website

IF YOU GO

What: Victoria County Farmers Market

Where: Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center parking lot, 2805 N. Navarro St.

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

Information: call 361-582-6533.

Jerry Martin smiled as he gathered a mishmash of vegetables - an eggplant, an onion, a couple of potatoes - and handed them off to a customer.

"Enjoy them," he said from behind his table at the Victoria County Farmers Market.

The Mission Valley farmer said a little more than 50 percent of his income comes from the farmers market, which takes place three days a week.

"I sell at the house, but I always make it out here," he said. "I get better prices out here than back at home. It helps."

But Martin is more the exception than the rule. For many participating producers, the market provides merely supplemental income.

Market Manager Noah Thompson said he participates mainly because he loves to see things grow.

"It's in your blood, I guess," he said while seated inside the trailer he uses to haul his fruits and vegetables. "I come from a farm family, and I've always been around this. The market is my baby."

He said it's difficult to know just how much he makes per market. It varies depending on the weather, customers and specific foods for sale. In general, though, he takes about 1,500 pounds of fruits and vegetables to market and sells most all of it.

Although many producers sell the same sorts of foods, Thompson said they don't view one another as competition.

"The more vendors we have, the more people stop to look," he said. "We're more visible. We like to have as many vendors out as we can."

Although the market generates profit, it's important to remember farming's input costs, said Sara Janak, president of the farmers market. Everything costs money, from the fruit and vegetable seeds to fertilizer and fuel for the equipment and cars.

It typically takes three to four weeks for the market's farmers to "get in the black" in terms of profits.

Janak said she participates in the market because she enjoys the experience. The extra spending money is also nice.

"I actually got my husband a rifle for his birthday with the money we made here," she said. "It's good to get some income you can just have fun with."

Away from the farmers market, Janak and her husband, Travis Janak, keep busy with other business endeavors.

Both husband and wife do biofuels and weed science research for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. They also recently began thegardenfly.com, a website that offers information on their crops, recipes and updates on the growing season.

"It keeps us busy," she said in between speaking with customers. "But we enjoy what we're doing."

For Nordheim resident Bill Kirchoff, the market is a hobby he's taken part in for 40 years, also as a way to bring in spending money.

Kirchoff only grows tomatoes, but said he typically sells between 200 and 400 pounds a week. At $1.50 per pound, it can add up.

Money isn't the only reason he makes it to market. It also gives him a chance to spend time with his grandson, Corey Goodale, who helps at his stand, and to visit with people.

"I enjoy it," he said. "You meet some really good people out here."

As for Martin, he said the market can be unpredictable.

Business typically booms more in the beginning than as the season progresses, he said. Weather also plays its role, since fewer people shop when the summer heat sets in.

Regardless, he said he plans to continue setting up shop and selling what produce he can.

"I like coming out here," he said. "I always have. Sure, I'll keep it up."

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