This is one in a series of posts highlighting the four winners of our summer long America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest.
King George County is the quintessential rural Virginia setting, with about 22,000 residents calling the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers home. The county prides itself on its family-oriented community feel, but without a major downtown setting, local schools often act as meeting centers. Now, thanks to the King George Farmers Market, residents have a place to gather alongside neighbors, shopping for the best local produce from the county’s many family farmers.
The market opened in May 2009 thanks to a spark from grower Elizabeth Bewick. When it first opened, there were just three vendors. Later it grew to about a dozen producers, and during peak season, the Saturday market boasts up to 14 vendors. When establishing the market, a group of citizen-famers and food lovers decided the King George Farmers Market should only allow growers from within the county.
“When we were starting the market we looked at rules for markets in our area,” explains Market Manager DeLaura Padovan. “We had a lot of discussions on how to define local because we wanted to be a grower and producer market only. In the end, we made it only for those within the county. We decided to start small and add more if needed.”
So far, that concept works as the King George Farmers Market won in the boutique category for this year’s America’s Favorite Farmers Market. “I’m still completely overwhelmed we won this contest,” Padovan says.
Given the relatively small size of the region, the farmers market acts as a gathering center for families and friends. The county boasts tremendous community participation, from the various activities at the King George High School to the local YMCA. The market joined events like a monthly family sing-along, a community appreciation day, and a colonial reenactment led by the local 4H Club, to grow community spirit. The local quilting club also shows its support through a raffle of two quilt patterns featuring different fruits and vegetables. Even students at the King George High School helped spread the word about the American’s Favorite Farmers Market contest through Facebook. It’s easy to see that the farmers market truly represents the community-centered mentality of the residents.
“By and large, most of us don’t live in a neighborhood,” Padovan says. “This gives us the common neighborhood in the county. I think people are here because they want to live in the country.”
Many in the county yearn for self sufficiency. To reach this goal, residents rely on the small network of food growers in the area. Padovan says this network is not just for food safety concerns, but also because it ends up being much more relevant for farmers and residents. “If we can take care of ourselves in this county, we are way better off,” she says.
The county-only restriction provides family farmers with the chance to sell their goods to customers looking for healthy, locally grown options. Like most of the vendors at the market, Padovan and her husband operate a farm on less than an acre. “Just about everyone is on an acre-sized backyard garden,” she explains. “For being so tiny, we have a pretty amazing variety of things we sell.”
If you spend a Saturday at the market, which runs from May through Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll find local beef, fish, chicken and duck eggs, spring plants, herbs, and plenty of vegetables. But it’s not just the food that brings people out to the market. Padovan says one of the missions of the market is to educate through various outreach programs. In addition to classes on raising Shitake mushrooms and canning tomatoes, the market hosted a food film series in the winter and had presenters speak about regional feasibility.
Looking to the future, Padovan says, “One of our missions is to grow more growers, starting with kids in the schools.” Fear of big-box retailers moving into the area makes Padovan and others associated with the farmers market even more eager to teach children about the importance of locally grown food.