By Betsy Finklea
According to the USDA, “Farmers markets have become a critical ingredient to our nation’s economy, food systems, and communities. Connecting rural to urban, farmer to consumer, and fresh ingredients to our diets, farmers markets are becoming economic and community centerpieces in cities and towns across the U.S.”
Pat Laird, Project Director for the Farmers Market shared this quote with the Dillon City Council at their January meeting to open up the discussion about a permanent location for a farmers market in downtown Dillon.
Laird gave some background. She aid that RALI began in 2007 when the Francis Marion University Education Foundation saw a need for a program for leaders in the Pee Dee area. Dillon County is one of two RALI groups that still exist. One project that RALI has done is to establish the Dillon County Free Medical Clinic which now serves 600 patients.
The DCHI (Dillon County Health Initiative) came out of RALI. It is funded out of the Office of Rural Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation. For the past four years, the DCHI has provided health and nutrition information and support to Dillon County. DCHI has provided free vegetable plants and seeds to Dillon County residents; plants for raised beds at the schools; tomato plants for every third grader in the county with growing instructions, and has held monthly pop-up Farmers Markets from May through October.
Laird said they are now looking for a permanent space for the farmers market. They have been holding the Farmers Market events at the South Plaza across from the old First Bank building, which now serves as the City of Dillon downtown development office. Laird said while the area has adequate space, it exposes the participants to the elements, and has caused cancellations and early closings on a number of occasions. In a coveted space, such as the one they are proposing, shoppers would be able to stroll the market in a covered space.
Laird said there is a great deal of work involved in putting on a farmers market including setting up the market, transporting the equipment needed to the area, setting up the tents and the signage, closing roads, and other preparations needed. She said this consumes a great deal of time for the organizers and the vendors. It also incurs additional costs because they have to rent portapotties, and have event insurance.
With a permanent market space, equipment would be stored in the venue and vendors could pull up to their spot and unload their merchandise.
In addition, the venue will be complete with a community room and catering kitchen that would be used by individuals and organizations.
Laird said she believed the project would be a great addition to enhance the Main Street downtown development program.
Laird then detailed what she and Johnnie Luehrs had done to ensure the success of the project. She said they had taken a grant opportunity workshop sponsored by Congressman Tom Rice and had contacted Rice’s Myrtle Beach office; spoken with various agencies and officials about possible resources; spoken with Rep. Jackie Hayes and Senator Kent Williams; been in contact with the Pee Dee Regional Council of Governments about possible grants; talked with PDRTA about providing transportation to the market; and had many conversations with many people about the market.
Laird said they want to lease a portion of 108 South Railroad Avenue for the purpose of constructing a farmers market. The city would have use of the venue and the use of the parking. Laird noted they had already secured $50,000 in funding for the project.
Mayor Pro-Tem Phil Wallace asked what percentage of the property that the market would take up. Mike Tyler, who works with Florence Builders (FBi), said the placement on the property will be beneficial to everyone. Tyler said this would be an asset to Dillon and a nice farmers market would be constructed. There was further discussion. Laird pointed out that the kitchen portion of the project would be a catering kitchen not a commercial kitchen because there was too much liability involved with a commercial kitchen. Further comments were made.
No decision was made. Laird and Luehrs will meet with members of the downtown committee for further discussion.
By Betsy Finklea