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Market gives farmers avenue to sell homegrown fruits, veggies

The open pavilion next to the A.W. Todd Centre in Russellville has come to life this summer with the return of the Franklin County Farmers Market. The old wooden tables are piled high with produce for eager market-goers to inspect and purchase.

Gary Stanford is in his first year as market manager for the Franklin County Farmers Market. A school bus driver during the school year, Stanford “needed something to do, and I enjoy it. I’m from the country; I grew up growing stuff with my parents. I have a little bitty garden – nothing like these folks have.”

A dozen or so farmers, depending on the day, set up at the market four days a week to entice shoppers with bright red tomatoes, mounds of squashes and beans, little cartons of juicy berries and all manner of fresh produce.

Minnie Taylor has been coming to the market for the past five years. She sells corn, blackberries, potatoes, squash and cucumbers, along with her specialty – green beans.

“I really appreciate having a place to do this. It’s extra money for me,” she said. “I enjoy it. I have a lot of fun down here.”

Taylor looks to the Lord to guide her as she sells produce and shares her testimony with the people she meets. “I pray that he will let his light shine through me, and I think it does,” she said. “I pray on the way down here to send people to buy my produce, and he usually does.”

For most of the farmers at the market, it’s as much about the people they get to interact with as it is about selling produce. Roger Puckett has been selling there for about ten years, bringing squash, potatoes, okra and other fresh veggies to tempt market-goers.

“I try to be nice to everybody who comes in and speak to them,” Puckett said.

At a table overflowing with tomatoes, the farmers market is a family affair. Jason Skidmore and his wife Shannon, as well as their son Jesse, 10, began pitching in to help Jason’s mother Christine Skidmore sell this year’s tomato crop after Jason’s father Jack passed away in May.

“He had the whole garden planted with 400 tomato plants,” Jason said. “I have a full-time job, but I am dedicated to see this through … We have our hands pretty full.”

Jason, who works with the county highway department, said his father sold produce at the market for years. In addition to tomatoes, which is their focus, the Skidmores have also grown greens, cabbages, potatoes and cucumbers.

Market devotees urge others to continue to support the farmers market in Russellville.

“People have quit farming, and the ones who are still trying to do it and make a living at it – we need to support them,” Stanford said.

Farmers markets, Taylor added, “are kind of like a dying art … Our young people need to get out and learn to do this, because when us older people are gone, (farmers markets) are going to be gone.”

The Franklin County Farmers Market is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to noon.