• 66°

Oxford Community Market receives USDA Grant

Oxford Community Market announced yesterday that the USDA awarded them with an almost $167 thousand grant, which will allow the market to operate on a year-round schedule.

The grant, titled “Keep on Growing,” was written by director Betsy Chapman and will span over the next three years. John Winkle, chair of the board of directors, says the fact the grant proposal was accepted is remarkable in its own right.

“We believe that by moving to a 12-month cycle, this market can become a more effective community partner,” Winkle said. “The USDA funded only 11 percent of all applications and proposals under the farmer’s market support program. So we’re proud to be a part of the 11 percent and not the 88.”

The market currently operates nine months out of the year, and the expansion to a 12-month schedule will take place in 2020.

Implementation of the grant will include a series of workshops, training programs and roundtable discussions to help vendors prepare for year-round production and direct-to-consumer marketing opportunities.

Chapman says the market will work with the University of Mississippi to coordinate marketing and education efforts.

“We’re going to be working with Ole Miss integrated marketing and communications students to develop a targeted marketing plan,” she said. “We’re working with the university community nutrition partners to develop curriculum that we can use in the market as well as markets around the state who want to implement some of our programs.”

Currently, there are only two other year-round markets in the state, one in Jackson and another on the coast.

Oxford Community Market has been recognized in the past for its efforts to reach low-income households, and it is one of the few farmers markets in the state that accepts SNAP benefits.  Both Winkle and Chapman say the grant will only increase their efforts.

“The grant project will also allow us to increase our outreach to income barriers by adding a regular series of cooking demonstrations and cooking classes that we’ll have at the market,” Chapman said.

In addition to helping consumers, the year-round market is also expected to benefit the local economy. Winkle says the perks go beyond the vendor and consumer.

“I want [people] to realize that “Keep on Growing” is not limited to the market itself,” he said. “Research studies indicate that when people buy from local businesses and nonprofit farmer’s markets such as ours, more money stays in the community for a longer period of time than if people had made those same purchases at national chain stores.”

Les Driggers, a vendor who owns and operates 7D Farm with his wife Sherry and their children, says expanding the market will not only help his family, but also will break down barriers between the LOU community. The Driggers are best known for grinding their own flour and cornmeal, which they use to make baked goods for the market.

“We have a lot of division in our country, and we’re kind of segregated into different classes and pitted against each other in different ways,” Driggers said. “But here at the market, we get everybody, different cultures, races, socioeconomic standings, genders, political views. We all come together and interact civilly and get along, and we form friendships across these barriers that really don’t matter that much. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

For more information on Oxford Community Market, visit http://oxfordcommunitymarket.com.