“It is our belief that by supporting our local farmers today, we can ensure that there will be farms in our community tomorrow.” - Kent Myers, former City of Hot Springs Manager
Recently Hot Springs, Arkansas dedicated its new Farmers Market Pavilion at the Historic Downtown Farmers Market in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This dedication is the culmination of years of effort that began with a Farmers Market Promotion Program grant in 2006 from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.The grant awarded to the Historic Downtown Farmers Market funded extensive advertising and promotion, increased signage and special event equipment, and the development of architectural plans for pavilion. These improvements have increased customer counts at the market to almost 29,000 per season, with another 10,000 visitors coming to take part in numerous community events. In a town with a population of 39,457, these are impressive numbers. And, vendor participation increased during the course of the project by approximately 50% and continues apace each year. In a verbal poll, Historic Downtown Farmers Market farmers said these developments have translated into an increase in income of between 15 and 30% since the inception of the Farmers Market Promotion Program grant.
Terry Payne, Hot Springs’ public information director and the manager of the market for 14 years, said that the grant helped grow the market, and the construction of the farmers’ market pavilion is already positively impacting the development of the surrounding neighborhood and commercial area. In addition to thousands of new customers that now visit each year, the Farmers Market Promotion Program grant increased community awareness of the market and helped position the Historic Downtown Farmers Market as not only the community’s “front porch” and gathering place, but also as a center for health, nutrition, and wellness.
The grant also served as a catalyst to attract additional private and public funding, as well as local, statewide and national publicity. Upon completion of their Farmers Market Promotion Program grant in the fall of 2008, the City of Hot Springs was positioned ahead of all other Arkansas cities in applying for state grant funding for their market, and they were recognized by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture as being the most thoroughly prepared to break ground. Those preparations resulted in a $350,000 grant award from the State of Arkansas to build their pavilion.
In addition to the State grant, the Historic Downtown Farmers Market was able to leverage another $22,500 in financial donations plus numerous in-kind contributions in the form of labor, volunteers, and materials donated by a local stone mason for a permanent sign at the market entrance. In the words of Hot Springs Mayor Mike Bush, “The Historic Downtown Farmers Market provides a beneficial service to the community in so many ways … It is our belief that farmers’ markets grow more farmers, which in turn, grow healthier families, communities, and economies.”