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Farmers markets recognized nationally

Summertime in the South is notorious for several things, like the scorching heat, the notorious humidity, backyard barbecues, sitting on a front porch with a glass of sweet tea, and eating bucket loads of homegrown vegetables, fresh from the garden or farm.

Gardening has seen a resurgence in recent years, especially from the growing group of people looking for natural and organic alternatives to processed foods.

Because of this, most local farmers markets and produce stands have seen an uptick in the number of people frequenting their stands each week, and the hard-working farmers who makes these stands possible are being recognized nationwide next week.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed an official proclamation declaring August 3-9, 2014, “National Farmers Market Week”.

Throughout the week, USDA will celebrate the nation’s thousands of farmers markets, the farmers who make them possible, and the communities that host them.

This year marks the 15th Annual National Farmers Market Week recognizing the important role that farmers markets play in the agricultural and food economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began declaring National Farmers Market Week in 2000.

“Farmers markets play a key role in developing local and regional food systems that support family farms, and help grow rural economies,” Vilsack said.

They bring communities together, connecting cities with the farms that support them, and provide Americans across the country with fresh, healthy food.”

Thousands of farmers markets across the country offer consumers fresh, affordable, convenient, and healthful products sold directly from the farm. They also offer additional market opportunities for local producers, especially smaller or newer operations. Farmers markets increasingly offer electronic benefits transfer technology that can be used by recipients of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – as well as low-income women, infants, and children and seniors participating in the WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs – to get fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Melody Pearson, manager of the Red Bay Farmers Market, has comes from a family of gardeners and has been a lifelong gardener herself, so she is a big advocate or shopping from local farmers and gardeners.

“I can’t say enough good things about the Red Bay Farmers Market,” Pearson said.

“Even if you aren’t a grower of fresh fruits and vegetables, you can still be a consumer, and farmers markets make that possible.

“Just like growing your own vegetables, there are many benefits to shopping at local farmers markets.

“For one thing, you will be supporting local people – people who are probably your neighbors or people you know. Also, you will be buying truly fresh produce. Our farmers typically pick one day and sell the next, so you’re not buying something that has sat on the shelf for a month.

“Also, the health benefits for fresh produce are numerous, so you would be making a healthy, responsible choice for you and your family.”

Franklin County has two farmers markets currently in operation.

The Red Bay Farmers Market is located in downtown Red Bay at 653 2nd Street NE. It is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. through September.

The Franklin County Farmers Market is located in downtown Russellville at the pavilion behind the A.W. Todd Centre. It is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. until 12 p.m. through October.

Both markets accept the senior farmers market nutrition program (SFMNP) vouchers, which are given out by Farmers Market Authority to low-income seniors to redeem for fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. The Red Bay Farmers Market also accepts EBT/SNAP cards.

Any farmers who would like to sell at the farmers market must go to the Franklin County Extension Office, located in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse, and fill out a growers permit in order to sell at the Franklin County or Red Bay Farmers Market. These permits are free.

For more information about local farmers markets, visit www.fma.alabama.gov.