Vendors work to improve Forrest County Farmers Market
By LICI BEVERIDGE
Dec. 16, 2017
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Forrest County Farmers Market sits on a quiet street near downtown Hattiesburg.
The indoor market on Corinne Street has been open since 1949, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, canned jellies and jams, baked goods and handmade items ranging from soap and pottery to wooden toys and birdhouses.
It is housed in Forrest County's JAP Carter Building, named after a former board of supervisors' president who served from 1949-83. The building also houses the county's veterans affairs office.
Vendor Carol Dickens of Collins started coming to the market when she was a child.
"It's been a part of my life since I was 6 years old," she said. "This market means a lot to me."
At 60, the Hattiesburg native sells a variety of vegetables grown on her family farm, but she and her daughter also sell their handmade quilts, purses and more.
Carl Glover of Hattiesburg comes to the market to buy fresh greens from Dickens and other vendors.
"I come here this time every year," he said. "I've been coming here a long time."
Glover is one of many longtime customers who shop at the market. But while vendors like Dickens faithfully bring their wares to the market twice a week, their customer base is shrinking.
Vendors are hoping to bring new business to the market by making a few changes including adding signage along Hardy Street and Broadway Drive and, when weather allows, featuring a couple outdoor vendors so passers-by can see what the market has to offer.
"I've talked to a lot of people who have no idea (the market) exists," vendor David Carley of Purvis told Forrest County supervisors at the Nov. 20 meeting. "But it used to be a very active location."
Carley said he would like to see partnerships grow between the Downtown Farmers Market and the Forrest County market because it is open year-round it can extend the season for some of the downtown vendors.
"We'd like to see them come in," Carley said. "They would bring some of their followers, too."
Vendor Linda Simmons of Hattiesburg said she would like to see more use of the market's outdoor space to attract new customers.
"When you go by, you don't see it," she said. "When the weather is pretty, you can have a little table out there, that would attract some people to come in."
Forrest County supervisors approved giving the vendors group $600 for yard signs and other advertising.
"We support and will continue to support the farmers market," board president David Hogan said.
The supervisors also agreed to have signs made to be posted on main streets throughout Hattiesburg.
"We're off the beaten track," Supervisor Chris Bowen said. "We've got an advertising problem for sure."
Market organizers also want to revamp vendor spaces and bring in new vendors who would complement what's already there. And the vendors are considering opening once a week in the afternoon.
They are looking at updating the market's policies to reflect the changes they anticipate making.
"I think the last time they were updated was in 2011," said Tawnya Holliman, Forrest County Extension Service agent and county coordinator. "It's time to be updated for sure."
The extension service acts as a liaison between the vendors and county officials.
Holliman said she is pleased the new leadership at the market. They are being proactive about their needs and working with supervisors toward their goals.
"They've taken some of the board of supervisors' recommendations and were looking to meet with the board next year to update the policies based on those recommendations," she said.
Policy changes, however, could mean making some hard decisions about some vendors who have booths but don't come to the market.
"They're pretty much using it for storage," Simmons said. "I haven't seen some of them in years."
The market at times has a waiting list, so vacant booths are hard to come by. Carley would like to see that change.
"(Some booths) are taken by people who don't use it," Carley said. "It makes it look like there's nothing in here.
"There is quite a variety here as you walk around and look at what's here. And you can't find some of this stuff anywhere else."
Alton Headley of Purvis has been a vendor at the market for between 12 to 15 years. He offers hand-crafted wood works including birdhouses and toy cars and trains.
He thinks people would enjoy a lot of the items if they would just come to the market. The vendors are hosting an open house Saturday with refreshments and a drawing for a basket of the vendors' goods.
"Just come in and look around," Headley said.