HUNTSVILLE — Some four years after it was first envisioned, the Scott County Farmers & Crafters Market will become complete on Saturday, when it opens at its new and permanent location on Scott High Drive.
Saturday’s grand opening of the new facility across the street from the Scott County Justice Center also marks the official opening of the 2013 season, with market hours set to begin at 8 a.m.
Thereafter, the market will open at 8 a.m. each Saturday through October.
In addition to the move from the market’s temporary location on the old courthouse mall in downtown Huntsville, where vendors gathered for the first three years of the market’s existence, 2013 also marks the first time the market will expand to multiple days each week. The market will be open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. each Tuesday through September.
Jeremy West, director of the University of Tennessee/Tennessee State University Agriculture Extension Office in Scott County, said the expanded hours came at the request of local gardeners.
“Their thing was, our produce isn’t ready on Saturdays sometimes; our stuff is ready on Monday,” West said, adding that the additional day of market hours will allow gardeners to deliver produce while it is as fresh as possible.
There will be several other firsts when the market opens Saturday. With the move to a permanent location comes restroom facilities, the ability to accept credit/debit cards, and a true “rain or shine” marketplace.
“Our vendors won’t need tents or tables; everything will be available for them,” West said.
With no charge to set up, West said local growers and crafters have nothing to lose.
“Take advantage of it. Try it one time. That’s what I would say to farmers and gardeners,” West said.
In addition to the ability for buyers to purchase produce, crafts and baked goods without cash, West said he hopes that the market will be ready to accept EBT cards by the first of July. The Extension Office is also in the process of obtaining approval to accept WIC vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The ability to accept debit cards and EBT cards is something we just couldn’t easily do on the mall,” West said. “Plus, the lack of restrooms was a common complaint, and now we have those.”
The market’s roots go back to a conversation in 2009 between West and local CASA director Christy Harness. From there, several other Scott Countians were involved in planning the market, including West’s father, Harold West, along with Waynette Harness, Angela Morrow, Patti Jeffers and Kate Lowe.
The market opened for the first time in July 2010, and has maintained regular Saturday hours during the growing and harvesting season since, although West admits that it has been slow at times.
“When we started, our goal was an outlet for local gardeners and farmers to sell their product, and also to provide a resource for fresh fruits and vegetables to the public,” West said. “It’s struggled at times. We’ve had anywhere from three vendors to 11.”
State Sen. Ken Yager visited the market at its location on the mall last year, along with the state commissioner of agriculture, and encouraged the application of a state grant — administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the state department of ag — for the construction of a permanent structure.
When the opportunity to file a formal application for a grant came in February of this year, things happened quickly.
“(Scott County) Mayor (Jeff) Tibbals called me the first of February, and the grant was due by the middle of February,” West said. “I said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
The grant required a $10,000 match. Donations were solicited and obtained from individuals and local businesses to satisfy that requirement. On top of that, Scott County Commission voted to donate a piece of county-owned property on Scott High Drive for construction of the facility. Soon after, notification was received that the grant was approved and ground was broken on the 2,500-ft. facility.
“It was about a 15-day turnaround,” West said.
The key now, West said, is for vendors to set up at the market.
“We have to have vendors for (the market) to be sustainable,” West said. “Last year we got down to three vendors a couple of weekends and that was worrisome to me. Nobody is going to come if no one is selling anything.”
The customer base is already there; West said that an average Saturday has seen between 50 and 125 customers browse the market, with more on some Saturdays.
“We stay pretty busy,” he said. “We’ve found that 8 o’clock to 9 o’clock is the busiest time.”
Now, West hopes the move to a permanent home and the heightened visibility that comes with that move will pull in more customers and vendors alike.
So far, signs are that those hopes will be realized. As of last Friday, West said 10 vendors had signed up for the market, making it the biggest opening day in the market’s four years. “There has definitely been an increase in interest,” he added.
The new market will be more than just a place to buy and sell fruits, vegetables, crafts and baked goods. Details are being finalized for a Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival on Oct. 12, which will host the Scott County Barbecue Championship. Next spring, the market will host a regional rabbit show. And there are plans to introduce a family movie night with free, weekly showings of family-friendly movies, at some point in the future.
Saturday's grand opening will begin with an official ribbon-cutting at 8 a.m., with live entertainment throughout the morning, a bounce house for the kids, horseshoe games for the adults and free popcorn for everyone.