By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
The Gardendale Farmers Market is still three months from opening this summer, but organizers have already hit the ground running in hopes of a successful season.
About 30 people were on hand Friday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for a brainstorming session between growers, the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, Gardendale officials and Good Shepherd representatives. The church sponsors the market; Jim Parola is the market manager and other church members also contribute.
This will be the fourth year in business for the Gardendale market — a milestone that John Willoughby of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority says is a mark of success.
“After a market goes through its third year, you’ve proven yourself,” Willoughby said. “The Gardendale market is very impressive. I really like what you’re doing. I think you have an incredibly bright future.”
Willoughby said he works with many markets in Alabama, including 16 alone in the Birmingham city limits. He said he can tell rather quickly if a farmers market will succeed.
“You have to look at a market as a business,” he said.
Many of the farmers at the meeting sell the fruits of their labor at several markets; they seem to be satisfied with how the Gardendale business is operated.
One woman in the crowd, who sells produce at the Gardendale market, said the management of the market is excellent; another grower said that he and all of the other growers appreciate the people who manage the
market because they do a great job.
Rich Dender said the success of the market is because of the farmers. He said the market received no complaints during the two years that he was market manager.
“That goes back to the farmers and how they conduct their business,” Dender said. Speaking directly to the farmers, he said, “You guys do your part and we try to support you.”
The Gardendale market is small, with only a dozen or so vendors, but Parola said that is by design. He wants to keep it small enough that the farmers can make profits without competing with another vendor at the same market.
Dender said the market is a “balanced market basket,” with a good variety of fruits and vegetables, along with locally-grown honey and baked goods.
In addition, all of the farmers are certified by the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, which Willoughby said is a “standard of excellence that separates you from all the other guys.”
Gardendale Mayor Othell Phillips said the market has had a positive impact on the city. It not only drives traffic to Gardendale, where people also do other shopping and eating, but he said it improves the quality of life.
The market will be held at the Gardendale Civic Center again this year: Every Thursday, 1-5 p.m., from May 23 through Sept. 26. It will be closed on July 4.
Phillips said that next year, the market will be held at the new city center, which will include a park-type area. He said the city center, to be on Mt. Olive Road next to Gardendale Elementary School, will go out for bid soon. He said construction could begin this spring.
Willoughby said the new location would be “a big competitive advantage for Gardendale’s market.”
The market also accepts vouchers from the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Seniors age 60 and older can go to www.fma.alabama.gov for more information and to fill out an application.