Ag Commish makes stop in Berea

Photo courtesy Berea City Government

Berea had a special guest yesterday to help recognize Kentucky’s National Farmer’s Market Appreciation Week. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and candidate for Governor Ryan Quarles joined others for the kickoff at the Chestnut Street Pavilion. 

Established in 1973 with the help of former Berea College professor Bill Best, the Berea Farmer’s is the second oldest in the state. Mayor Bruce Fraley said the market is important because it serves as both an engine for economic development, but also a gathering place for citizens.

“Not only does the Berea Farmer’s Market provide a vital source of locally grown food for our local economy, but it also builds community,” Fraley said. The facility also serves as a venue for local concerts and events. 

Fraley noted that the pandemic taught people about the fragility of the food supply chain as well as the importance of maintaining a capacity to produce food locally. The trend toward more local agriculture is translating into entrepreneurship and economic development, according to Fraley.

“We’re going back to the future. Agriculture is big business, and it’s going to get bigger,” Fraley said. “We have to grow more here and we have to support our local food economy. If anything, the last two and a half years has taught us food chains can be disrupted, but local farmers are still here, and the importance of that local food economy cannot be overstated.”

Commissioner Quarles is on a tour of farmer’s markets throughout Kentucky, which currently supports some 3,000 local producers and vendors around the state.

“We’re crisscrossing the state and reminding Kentuckians that if they want to support local agriculture and support their tastebuds, go support a local farmer at one of the 170 farmer’s markets across Kentucky,” Quarles said, adding he’s glad his department played a role in helping Berea entrepreneurs and local farmers by partially funding the Chestnut Street Pavilion with a $250,000 grant.  

“We were proud to make an investment of your money, your tobacco settlement money, back into a facility that serves the public, and this is what’s happening all across Kentucky,” Quarles said. “We want to help change the culture of food in Kentucky. Let’s not make buying local a fad, but let’s make it something that’s permanently part of our diet.”

In addition to supporting local entrepreneurs and farmers, Quarles noted that through programs like Double Dollars, which doubles the purchasing power of financially disadvantaged consumers, farmer’s markets can help people make healthier food choices and fight hunger while boosting local economies. 

“The Double Dollars program is a win-win-win. You’re helping people out to have the purchase power to shop at the farmer’s market. Secondly farmers are being helped,” he noted.

Berea Farmer’s Market Board Chair Rene Froita said that so far, the new Chestnut Street Pavilion seems to have had a positive impact for local sellers.

“Year to date, our vendors have earned $68,944, an increase of 24 percent over last year,” Froita said, noting there has been a consistent increase in customers every month. “We have seen an increase of out-of-town and out-of-state shoppers frequently shopping the market.” 

Fraley and Community Farm Alliance President Martin Richards thanked the other officials who were on hand at Tuesday’s event, including State Representative Josh Bray, Berea College President Lyle Roelofs, and they especially noted the contributions of Berea Farmer’s Market alumna, Berea City Councilmember Katie Startzman, who launched her bagel business at the market and grew it into two successful brick and mortar businesses.

The Chestnut Street Pavilion was funded with a $250,000 grant from the Kentucky Office of Agriculture Policy, a $100,000 grant the USDA Rural Development division, $10 from the Madison County Extension Office, and a $250,000 investment from the Berea Tourism and Convention Commission. Fraley noted that building the facility was one of his priorities when he became mayor, and last week the council approved plans to apply for a grant to renovate the former Ford building to provide an additional multi-use facility for use by the city and citizens.