Even with the snow piling up outside, it is not too early to be thinking about the Elkins Farmers Market. Shoppers are looking forward to gathering at Elkins Town Square and Elkins City Park to purchase the healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables. Vendors are ordering seeds and beginning to plan what they will raise in their summer gardens.
The Elkins Farmers Market began in 1975. Back then, farmers would bring their excess produce into town and back their trucks up at the Elkins Depot and sell their wares from the beds of their vehicles.
Now, the market attracts many vendors who sell at Elkins Town Square from 9 a.m. to noon each Saturday from the beginning of May through the end of October. Farmers Market vendors also sell their goods from 7 to 10 a.m. every Wednesday from July through September.
The Elkins Farmers Market offers fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, eggs, flowers, baked goods and hand-made items from May through October. The market offers buyers the ability to ask vendors questions about the growing process and ways to prepare items.
Shoppers at the Elkins Farmers Market can find fresh fruits, vegetables, honey, meat, flowers, herbs, breads, baked goods, eggs, smoothies, hand-made crafts, jewelry, wooden items and canned goods.
"We are always looking for more members to sell their goods," said Jodi Burnsworth, AmeriCorp market manager. "Lots of our members use the market as a business; others consider it a hobby, but either way, its lots of fun and everyone enjoys selling at the Elkins Farmers Market."
Burnsworth said the market helps customers as well as the sellers.
"Customers know where their food is coming from," she said. "If they have questions about how an item was grown, they have the ability to ask the person who grew it. Consumers can also learn about items they have never eaten and get ideas on ways to prepare the item. Plus it is more personable service, and lots of folks use the time to socialize with friends."
Vendors said they sell at the market because they enjoy talking with others.
"They like to talk about their wares and how or why they are participating in the market," Burnsworth said. "Most had parents and grandparents who sold at a farmers market, and they understand the value and want to continue selling for those purchasing. Selling helps supplement their income, helps with their children's college education expenses or helps with extra spending money."
Burnsworth said the Elkins Farmers Market will continue with the tradition of live music once or twice a month, and will feature cooking demonstrations once monthly.
"The cooking demonstrations are back thanks to a Snap Outreach Pilot Program grant through the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, with support from BB&T and the McDonough Foundation," she said.
Membership in the Elkins Farmers Market is $20 per year, plus 3 percent of sales from the season.
"Last year our membership increased by 34 percent," Burnsworth said. "We are always looking for new members. Last year, our vendors sold more than $70,000 worth of goods. We are hoping they will top $100,000 in sales for 2013."
Burnsworth said not all of the vendors at the market sell fruits and vegetables.
"We also have 30 percent of our vendors who are artisans and sell hand-crafted items," she said. "We are looking for more artisans who make items we do not already sell such as home-made soap. A jury committee approves any new artisan items added to the market."
The Elkins Farmers Market accepts cash, SNAP cards, WIC produce vouchers and senior vouchers.
"Customers who want to use their SNAP cards can use them at the market," Burnsworth said. "Women, Infant and Children produce vouchers are available in late July through the WIC office. Also, senior vouchers are available at the Randolph County Senior Center in July. Both WIC and senior vouchers are based on income, and the vouchers are good through the end of October."
Burnsworth said the redemption rate for WIC vouchers in 2012 was 70 percent, which had been less than 50 percent in previous years.
"Folks who are considering joining should go to the website at www.elkinsfarmersmarket.org and read our policies," Burnsworth said. "An application is included. We will have a full membership meeting in April to complete the last details for the market."
Additional information is available by calling the Randolph County Extension Office at 304-636-2455.