The state agriculture department’s top official dug into a paper cup filled with peach and tomato salad at the Spotsylvania Farmers Market Wednesday.
The colorful sample of fresh fruit and vegetables—it contained red onion as well—was part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program. Rising Virginia Tech senior Erica Hess creates samples using seasonal items from the market each week and hands them out with the recipes.
“Not everyone is familiar with how to use and store fresh produce,” Elizabeth Borst, the market’s manager and Healthy Food Incentive Program director, told Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Sandy Adams. “We want an Erica at every farmers market.”
Adams asked for a tour of the market in advance of National Farmers Market Week, which starts Sunday. She was especially interested in Spotsy’s Wednesday market because it’s held in Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center’s parking lot.
That link to the hospital is different from most of the 250 farmers markets around Virginia, Adams said, and ties in with first lady Dorothy McAuliffe’s efforts to eliminate childhood hunger and improve access to the state’s fresh, locally grown agricultural products.
The Spotsylvania Farmers Market, which also is open on Saturdays at the commuter lot at State Route 3 and Gordon Road, is the largest farmers market in Central Virginia. It has about 50 producers selling everything from eggs to eggplants, and serves roughly 3,000 customers each week from April to December.
Adams also got to meet Carey Chirico, the outreach deacon at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, and founder of The Table, the regional’s largest food pantry. Chirico said she realized that much of what The Table was giving out was highly processed, and that it would be “more respectful” to give people fresh food instead.
St. George’s created a garden where they could plant and pick vegetables, and Borst helped connect The Table with Flores Produce in Colonial Beach. The family farm sells its leftover fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be composted or fed to chickens.
“We’ve gotten almost 10,000 pounds of food in the last nine weeks from the Flores family,” Chirico said. “That was $20,000 last year for the Flores family.”
She said that the farm has also donated some things to The Table, and the church has held a blessing for its truck. The Salvation Army now has a similar program with Little Green Farm in Spotsylvania.
The Spotsylvania Farmers Market is also one of nine farmers markets nationwide that participate in The Farmers Market Coalition’s three-year pilot Farmers Market Metrics project, Borst told Adams. It is collecting data on such things as the average number of visitors to a market per day and the total annual vendor sales.