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Macon County Farmers Market

Black History Month is a time to reflect on positive achievements and accomplishments in Black communities. The Macon County Farmers Market (the Market), was originally established through a historic partnership between Tuskegee University, Macon County Commission, First Tuskegee Bank, and the Macon County Farmers Organization and has programs that have affected the Macon County community (socially, economically, and educationally) over the past three decades. Mr. Walter Baldwin, a retired Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program (TUCEP) Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent of 40 years, manages the market. “We started with the farmers selling produce in the town square”, recalls Mr. Baldwin. “There seems to have been interest in having a Farmers Market at times, but not at others”. “But when it was established, it quickly became a popular gathering place and has remained so ever since.”

The Market influences the community socially and educationally by providing a place for the community to congregate, catch up on what is happening in the Community, and gain information relevant to their community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Market became a location for the Macon County Commission to hand out free masks to citizens and to sign up citizens to be tested for the virus. Louis Maxwell, Chairman of the Macon County Commission, decided to use the Market as a location to give out the free facemasks in addition to other locations in the county.

The Market was used once again to affect education by providing a place for Macon County citizens to fill out the 2020 Census. Census workers used laptops and other electronic devices to sign-up citizens for the census. Due to the efforts to using the Farmer Market as an additional location, the County had a notable increase of citizens signing up for the census.

In 2015, a team of students, staff, and faculty established the Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Community Teaching Garden (CTG) on the same property in an adjacent lot. CTG is used to educate youth, new and beginning farmers, urban agriculturalists, and many more through workshops and demonstrations on topics such as confined space growing, natural methods of mulching, composting, integrated pest management among a host of other topics. Each year’s harvest leads to a Feastival, a community engagement activity pioneered by students, interns, and young staff surrounding healthy preparations of the produce from the garden and local farms. Additionally, the Farmers Market Jam is held every 3rd Thursday of the month is an example of how the community comes together to meet and greet. The Farmers Market jam offers food demonstrations, fitness workouts, and provides information through TUCEP fact sheets for the citizens to participate and take home. Each of these events has separately garnered the participation of over 100 people from the campus and community. This has created an incredible cross-generational space for all.

Economically, the Market provides local farmers and merchants with a location to sell locally grown produce and products. It has created space for farmers to bring fresh fruits and vegetables for the citizens to purchase along with value-added items such as homemade pastries, syrup, honey, and other goodies to market to area citizens.  Another major challenge turned opportunity was during the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, which has hurt many small farm sales. In the wake of this, TUCEP interns to diversify the market for participating farmers and enhance the local food system created the ACCESS Famers Market Online App. Interns were able to couple the app with curbside pickups that drew noticeable traffic to the market during the pandemic. Whiles this does not take away the spirit of the traditional farmers market participation, through this, consumers and community advocates can continue to support local farmers as much as they can without necessarily being in the crowd.

Submitted by Jacquelyn Carlisle