Meet Donna Leahy, Fredericksburg’s newly hired manager for the downtown farmers’ market. You should look for her face on market Saturdays starting next month, as she and the city’s parks and recreation department try to enhance the farmers’ market as a downtown draw.
Leahy comes to the part-time market manager job (funded by market vendor fees) from a background in historic preservation. She’s a graduate of the University of Mary Washington’s historic preservation program (with a second degree in accounting) and has worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc.
Leahy is busy setting up farm visits, collecting vendor applications and otherwise preparing for the managed portion of the Fredericksburg market season to start in April.
“We’re there for the vendors, to help them sell their product, and we’re also there for the consumers, to give them opportunities to buy fresh and buy local,” she said.
A few of the items on her plate this year:
- Helping eliminate the problem of not having cash on-hand when you want to go to the market. Fredericksburg has been approved for a state grant to purchase equipment that will allow consumers to use their debit or SNAP benefits cards to buy tokens to redeem with market vendors. Additional grant money will allow SNAP recipients to get up to $10 a week in matching funds for use at the market. This program first came to our area two years ago at the Spotsylvania market. Read our story about it here.
- Helping market customers have a better idea of what they’re buying. Market rules dictate that goods for sale must be grown or produced within a 75-mile radius of the market. Vendors are allowed to offer out-of-area produce for sale, but they must be pre-approved and clearly labeled. Leahy said she hopes to step up enforcement of these rules this year, both to protect customers and vendors. She is scheduling visits to farms that sell at the market to get a feel for what they have the capacity to grow.
- Getting a better understanding of how Fredericksburg uses its farmers’ market. You probably won’t see too many dramatic changes at the market this year. Leahy and Wendy Stone, the parks department’s manager of finance and leisure services, are hoping to gather data on when the market is busiest, what kind of product mix folks are looking for and other information to help them guide its development in the future.
- Better promoting the market as a downtown asset. Look for a new market website in the coming weeks. In addition, Leahy and Stone are working with the city’s economic development department on an August event focused on introducing families with children to downtown’s food offerings, with the market as a centerpiece.
Look for more on our area farmers’ markets in the paper in the coming weeks and on this blog. Emily Battle, Frontburner