By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — It should be no problem to find fresh fruits and vegetables in Gardendale this summer.
The Gardendale Farmers Market will host its fifth season this year, at the Gardendale Civic Center. The market will be open May 22 to Sept. 25, every Thursday, 1-5 p.m.
Market manager Jim Parola said the Gardendale market expanded in the 2013 season by offering numerous children’s activities, music during a couple of markets, three pie bake-off contests and more.
Besides selling a multitude of fruits and vegetables, the market also offers baked goods, jellies and jams, goat’s milk soap and fresh eggs.
The Gardendale market last year saw total sales of more than $12,500 higher than the previous year, due in part to several weeks of stormy and rainy weather in 2012.
In order to prepare for the season, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, which sponsors the market, hosted a meeting Friday for the farmers, vendors, sponsors, city officials and volunteers.
John Willoughby of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority (FMA) told the crowd that Gardendale’s weekly farmers market is one of 153 markets across the state, with eight in the process of being approved to open.
Willoughby encouraged the farmers to consider enrolling in MarketLink, a program that provides an iPhone, card reader and small printer that would enable the farmers and other vendors to process credit and debit cards, as well as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp) cards.
“This is an opportunity for your market,” he said. “What [FMA Director Don Wambles] wants for you growers is to step into the credit game.”
The plan requires a three-year obligation. It is free the first year and costs vendors $120 the second year and $220 the third year. It also charges a 1.79 percent processing fee for debit and credit cards, and 15 cents per transaction for SNAP cards.
Some vendors expressed concern that the Fultondale Farmers Market would pull customers away from Gardendale’s market, while others at the meeting said it should not affect Gardendale sales.
“You don’t want total saturation, but ... one market feeds off of another,” said Rich Dender, former market director. “It’s up to us to see that we have the best market around.”