By Richard A. Machek, Florida State Director, USDA Rural Development
I recently returned from a groundbreaking ceremony that was 10 years in the making. Like many of Florida’s rural cities and towns, the City of Marianna has faced years of reduced revenues and a shrinking business district. Looking for ways to revitalize their downtown, Marianna city leaders developed a plan early on, but lacked the funds to make it happen. Finally, after securing $180,000 in state and county funds and a $253,000 USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG), Marianna broke ground on a farmers market that will anchor the city’s new downtown park and recreation area.
I have to admit this project is close to my heart… and my stomach. As a sixth generation Floridian whose family has strong ties to agriculture, it’s gratifying to see a renewed interest rural farmers and the bounty they produce. USDA statistics indicate that the demand for locally grown produce will increase from $5 billion in 2002, to $7 billion in 2012. And that’s just what the city of Marianna is counting on.
“I think this park and farmers market will become a community icon,” said a Marianna city official during the groundbreaking ceremony. “I think this new opportunity to offer our goods and produce will be a great benefit to the community,” a representative from the Jackson County Growers Association told a local newspaper.
I think they’re both right. By creating this economic opportunity for local producers, the City of Marianna is generating wealth that will stay in their rural community. In addition to the increasing the flow of shoppers and revenue to the downtown area, local consumers will get the chance to connect with local farmers and begin to understand where their food comes from. There’s even talk of the local school district purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers market to serve in school cafeterias.
This project is a great example of how the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative can dovetail so effectively into Rural Development projects. The RBEG funds used to support this project will strengthen the rural community surrounding Marianna, promote healthy eating and support sustainable farming. For this rural community, it’s a win-win endeavor.