Franklin Farmer’s Market helps state earn recognition

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, January 4, 2012


FRANKLIN—Virginia recently placed ninth in the national top 10 list for the number of winter farmers’ markets. One of the contributing factors was the Franklin Farmer’s Market, which stays open May through February.

“In winter, people are bringing any collards, cabbage, winter squash, sweet potatoes or white potatoes; anything that typically grows late in the season,” said Franklin Farmer’s Market Manager Kathy Brown. “We still have some homemade goods, jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, and chow chow — a type of relish made with cabbage, which is popular here. Of course, there also baked goods.”

The market is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the shelter next to the Train Depot Visitor Center, 210 S. Main St., Franklin.

Statewide, there are 40 farmers’ markets open in the winter, up from 21 two years ago.

Another thing that helps the Farmer’s Market in Franklin is the wholesale produce market in Courtland.

“When we’re not in the midst of the season, vendors can go there and buy wholesale and resale for retail,” Brown said. “Vendors keep a seasonal supply. Once our local growing season starts, we encourage them to sell locally grown produce.”

“Some farmers come earlier or stay later depending on produce available and how busy they are,” she continued. “The busiest day is Saturday.”

Of course, if on any given day the weather is too harsh — bitter cold, raining or snowing heavily — that can be a factor.

“We’re still geared by the weather,” Brown said.

The majority of sellers are backyard farmers who grow produce as a hobby and want to share. That includes her and her husband, Jeff, who both grow a garden and manage the market. Both retired from Langley Air Force Base in the late 1990s and came from Hampton to live at Cedar Brook Farms in Southampton County.

Brown and her husband got involved after the Downtown Franklin Association got control of the market.

“We were very interested in being weekend vendors. I asked about it, and the board explained the situation,” she said. “I offered our services to get it off the ground. I had experience via Hampton Bay Days for many years dealing with food vendors and the health department. They jumped on the offer. Dan Howe came on board, and I helped create rules, bylaws and instructions for the market.”

The place has also served as an inspiration.

“Several other communities actually have come to see ours, and took the idea back to their localities,” said Brown. “Our market is set by the vendors so there’s not a guarantee of whom or what will always be available.”

“This particular one has been at its location for three years so far,” she continued. “There was for many years one at the Franklin Armory parking lot, and farmers sold out of the backs of their trucks. The city was given a grant to build a place for them, a lovely pavilion.”

Summer is the busiest time. Usually, vendors also will be present leading up to the holidays.

“On average, I’ve had up to at one time 25 vendors affiliated with the market,” she said. “Some are seasonal, such as just for watermelon, others spring produce. On Saturdays I can expect the most at one time, up to nine to 10 vendors. In between, it’s hit or miss. Not a lot of business. Not a big drive.”

The market’s not completely about selling food.

“We try to bring outside activities,” Brown said. “We invite Bear Path Acres, a kind of petting zoo that includes rescue animals. There also have been Master Gardeners, who have answered botanical questions.”

For more information, visit the Franklin Farmer’s Market on Facebook, or Downtown Franklin Association at

In nearby Isle of Wight County and the city of Suffolk, the markets are in hibernation.

Come spring, the Smithfield Farmers Market will enter its 10th season, according Kristin Wilda, who has been managing it for two years. The market at the Bank of Southside Virginia parking lot in downtown Smithfield will be open from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday from May 5 to Oct. 27, with events in spring and the holidays as well.

“We will have a market for Easter (March 31), with vegetable produce then because farmers will be providing greenhouse produce,” said Wilda. “We’re weather-driven.”

She added that the next market will be on April 21 for spring before the May opening.

“I can say with certainty that the numbers have grown,” she said. “We have more vendors and customers.”

For more information, contact Wilda at 375-3031 or

Kevin Hughes, the director of Economic Development in Suffolk, said the Market Park “typically begins in May and closes in October.”

At the market’s start in 2005 there were just five vendors, and that’s grown to 18 farmers participating in the past year “with more and more interested,” Hughes said.

Due to that growth, this spring the vendors will move from being sheltered under tents by the train station on North Main Street to a nearby permanent site. The pavilion will be on East Constance Road behind the Visitors Center at the corner with North Main. There will be 90 parking spaces.

“This will bring a lot more activity to the site,” he said.

The center had previously been leased in the restored Prentis House. The move came about after a study was done that counted 9,000 vehicles regularly passed the center’s previous spot, compared with 44,000 by the Visitors Center today, Hughes said.

“Also it’s a safer location (at the pavilion). Storms would come in and push tents around to the railroad tracks,” he said.

As for expanding the market to the winter months, “probably not this year,” said Hughes. “Possibly next year.”

In addition to selling fruits, vegetables and other foods, “Family Fun Days” will be implemented.

“People want a day with activities, and not just shop,” Hughes said.

There will be four to five events this season.

For more information, call the Suffolk Division of Tourism at 514-4130.