By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE — The Stephenville Farmers Market has quickly become a staple in the community during the fall months. David Walsh, owner of Ben’s PharmaChoice, the champion and sponsor of the Farmers Market, said that starting and growing the market took a few years.
“The idea had been around Stephenville for a while, but got some traction with the town’s economic development committee about four years ago,” said Walsh. “I talked to the chair of the committee at the time, Mark Felix, to put out proposals to get the market started.”
Walsh wanted to do his part to help start the Farmers Market because he saw a need that could be filled within the community.
“It gives small and medium farmers a venue to sell their goods and receive good prices for them while helping the growth of small farms,” said Walsh. “It also provides good, local produce to the residents in the region.”
The Town of Stephenville had advertised for a business to ‘champion’ the Farmers Market and Walsh sent in a proposal on behalf of his business, Ben’s PharmaChoice.
“Once Ben’s was picked as the champion, it was a fair bit of work organizing and looking for partners to help. We needed to find volunteers to help setup, find a venue, et cetera,” said Walsh. “It was just me at the start, but when we got some volunteers that was a big help.”
The Farmers Market is located at St. Stephen’s Parish Hall, 95 West Street in Stephenville and takes place over the course of four to five Saturdays in September and October each year. Walsh said there were many difficulties at the beginning.
“Some of the biggest challenges were convincing farmers to come and that it was worthwhile for them,” said Walsh. “Also getting the word out about the market to the community.”
Another challenge has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the market didn’t have to close its doors, organizers still faced struggles as many organizations and businesses halted operations.
“Generally the community has been really supportive, but attendance has been down a bit this year,” said Walsh. “We feel less people attended this year due to COVID concerns, but we are following all COVID protocols and, as it is an essential service, no VaxPass is required to attend.”
Walsh said there are difficulties, but that the benefits are definitely worthwhile and can be felt throughout the community.
“The market gives access to locally produced food and crafts, and it gives small producers a venue to sell at retail as well as promoting healthy living,” said Walsh. “We vet our vendors to ensure all products for sale are locally grown or produced. It is all about local.”
Walsh said there is something for everyone at the market, and the best way to get involved is to attend.
“There is a good variety of goods, crafts and art,” said Walsh. “Usually fresh vegetables, meats, lots of crafts, and some unique art can be found there as well.”
Many changes have taken place since the market started, thanks to shoppers focused on buying from and supporting local producers.
“We have taken on a partner in the local Community Youth Network (CYN) youth group and they, along with Vanessa Lee, have been a great help in organizing and helping setup each week. It works great as it is a good fundraiser for them as well. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Walsh said this isn’t the only change that the market has seen, as presence and attendance has also seen a drastic improvement.
“Our vendors attending have grown a lot since the start,” said Walsh. “Now we have about 30 vendors with usually 20-25 attending each week with many different product offerings.”
Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said it is a huge benefit to the region.
“The Farmers Market truly captures the culture of our community and the importance of our farming and craft industries,” said Rose.
The Farmers Market may be over for this year, but there is an upcoming event that everyone is welcome to attend. This year’s Christmas Market is scheduled to take place on Saturday, November 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Parish Hall.