Starting a Community Farmers Market

Taking the Show on the Road
This is the first in an ongoing series of posts; Heather Jones shares her first-hand experiences as she attempts to bring a farmer’s market to her small rural community of Woodbine, New Jersey.

heather jones “I don’t know how you do it” is a common phrase I hear and sometimes I don’t even know how I do it. I have a tendency to really burn the candle at both ends, I’m not happy unless I’m involved in a number of things and I’m always coming up with ten million more things to work on. Not to mention I’m a pretty nice person and I hate to tell people no. Right at this moment I’m writing this post instead of working on my presentation for an upcoming women’s retreat, upcoming as in two days away. So needless to say when I announced that I was going to try and bring a community farmers market to my small hometown it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone especially me.

So why is a beyond busy wife and mother of two opting to take on such a big project, well quite simply I can’t not do this. I live in a small rural town (pop. 2800) smack in the middle of Cape May County New Jersey which boasts the most beaches in the entire state. Basically I have to drive at least ten minutes to get anywhere and that includes a farmers market (20 miles) and the store where I purchase my local dairy and beef (40 miles, it’s under 100 miles so I consider it local). Basically I’m doing it for purely selfish reasons, but not only that it would be a wonderful thing for my community, a way to put my town back on the map and get families to see the importance of supporting local agriculture and local businesses. My hometown like many small towns was a bustling little hub for a long time; we had our own bank, butcher, corner market, gas station, hotel, Movie Theater, etc. Then like many towns during the 70s and 80s we had a crime wave that brought drugs in and ripped the town and many families apart. The local business owners packed up what they had left and moved away, the school district fell apart, the town became one that many people became ashamed of living in.

Fast forward 30 years later and the town along with local political figures are searching for redemption, we are going through a bit of a renaissance, and therefore a perfect time to bring a community farmers market in.

The first thing I did was contact my local State Department of Agriculture. The gentleman I spoke with commented about the unusual amount of phone calls he received this year about people wanting to set up Farmers markets and how he was thrilled that so many communities were finally getting on board with this initiative. He would mail to me a packet of information to review but while on the phone he briefly explained to me that I needed to set-up a market committee, meet with local political officials in order to secure a location and to ask permission to start a farmers market, and along with assistance from the department of agriculture contact farmers in hopes that they would want to come. After exchanging a few more pleasantries with my new friend from the department of agriculture including a brief conversation about Chef Dan Barber and President Obama’s recent trip to Blue Hill I hung up the phone ready to get to work.

I already have a location in mind. One thing you need to know about my town is that although we aren’t a destination spot according to my local county engineer’s office, over 50,000 cars travel through my town on their way to the shore points between the months of June and August. And that is my plan, to entice those out of towners to stop and pick up some of our fabulous locally grown produce on their way to their million dollar beach houses.

As for the Market committee, I have a few people in mind to assist me with this but I haven’t approached them yet. My plan is to review the information, inform the DOA that I will be moving forward with the project (The DOA informed me that out of all the applications filed to set up a community farmers market only a third actually get up and running), and then meet with the town mayor. Once I get a feeling of whether or not he’s going to go for it and I don’t see any reason why not then I will get a committee together and prepare to present the project to the town council.

So this is where my newest journey begins, I’m saying my prayers and keeping my fingers crossed that I may be able to possibly have it up and running for the month of August but if not this summer than all systems will ago for next year.

To be continued: My follow-up conversations with the Department of Agriculture and my meeting with the mayor. Next week: I review the book, “Don’t throw it, Grow it!”, 68 windowsill plants grown from kitchen scraps.

Heather Jones is a wife, mother, freelance food writer, and graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She has worked for Gourmet Magazine, TV Personality Katie Brown, and the New York based Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla. Heather resides in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters. She is a strong supporter of the Sustainable Food Movement and believes that education is the key to making a difference.


  1. Sharon says

    This is absolutely great! And I think your strategy of getting all those beach-bound cars to stop in town for the farmer’s market (or come to town on market days during their beach trips), is going to be a huge success. I seem to recall another near-beach farmer doing this with great success. The farm set up their roadside stand and they not only had people stop on their way to the beach but also come over during their stays to get fresh food, or pick-your-own.

  2. says

    What a great idea for a series. And good on you, Heather, for taking the initiative!

    I just wrote an article for the local paper about our farmers market in Texas. It was founded by a political candidate who swore that even if he lost the election, he’d spearhead the creation of a new market. He lost… and he did it, just as promised.

    Last year, I dropped in on an old haunt of mine, the Redstick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge which was started with nothing years ago. You can see from the pics that I made last summer that it’s blossomed:

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