The Ballinger Farmers' Market takes place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday in front of Higginbotham Brothers on Eighth Street. The farmers' market has been around for several years in one form or or another, but it wasn't until Aimee Plant moved here from Austin last year and invested her own time and money in it that it has achieved a new level of success. Plant recently opened a store called Everly Market on the corner of Eighth Street and Hutchings Avenue.
“I wanted to help,” Plant said when asked about her motivation to help the local farmers.
Her skills as an entrepreneur, organizer and coordinator have done much to help the local farmers market, but they have come at a price. She is not compensated for her money or her time. She does not make any money from helping the farmers or organizing and marketing the farmers' market. Moreover, the vendors are located further down the sidewalk in front of Higginbotham Brothers and not in front of her store.
When she originally envisioned the idea for a revamped farmers' market in 2017, she had high aspirations. She wanted the farmers' market on Hutchings Street so people passing through Ballinger on the weekends would potentially see it and stop to purchase local produce. While Plant saw it as a way to draw business to other merchants along Hutchings street, some of the merchants saw it as competition.
Since she encountered some stiff resistance to that idea she talked to Bob O at Higginbotham Brothers about having the market on the sidewalk outside their store. The details were worked out and agreed upon and Plant began investing not only some hard work, but also some of her own money. She created the logo and shouldered all of the marketing responsibility. In addition, she freshened up the Facebook page and took to other social media websites to create momentum.
“My intent was to get more publicity for the farmers,” Plant said. Getting the location was just half the work though. “Many of the farmers were not open to regulations and guidelines. There were many misconceptions out there. Being the messenger between the farmers and the health inspector was not a popular position to be in,” she added.
To help address the misconceptions and other issues, she created a handout of information with input from the health inspector, Billy Craddock.
“(Billy) is a good guy,” Plant said of Craddock. “Every time I've reached out to him he's gotten back to me with the relevant information quickly.”
As an example of the cooperation between Plant and Craddock, she told the story of one of the vendors at the farmers' market.
“There is a lady, Maria, who sells tamales,” Plant said. “There are certain requirements that have to be met to sell tamales and Maria is not a person very familiar with computers so together we gathered information from Billy and the various websites, downloaded the forms and filled them out. People along the way were very helpful and told us what we needed to do, step-by-step. Once we had the forms completed, we mailed them in and now Maria has a two-year state permit to sell her tamales anywhere in the state, not just here at the local farmers' market.”
It's far-reaching effects like that that Plant hopes will reverberate with the local farmers.
Additionally, Plant has purchased three pop-up canopies that can be used by any of the vendors. She provides the canopies free of charge and also has pH test strips if vendors want to test the acidity of some of their items.
Plant created a handout with relevant information compiled from the health department and other entities for all of the farmers that want to participate in the farmers' market. It's their choice if they want the handout or not. If they choose to receive the handout from her, she gives them a Ballinger Farmers' Market Approved Vendor placard. Farmers are not required to go through her to set up at the farmers' market and Aimee is not responsible for any items that they sell or any requirements that they do not meet.
Several of the farmers who participate said they have enjoyed the new setup and have experienced an increased number of customers. They have the Higgingbotham Brothers awning over them for shade and there is steady foot traffic in the area. The only requirement is that they do not block the door to any retailers and that they allow for 50 inches of sidewalk space between their tables and the curb.
As with almost any farmers' market, the prices are significantly lower than in any grocery store and in almost every case, the vegetables are fresher, many having been picked that morning on the evening prior. In addition to produce, you can purchase leather, crochet and other craft items. Plants, tamales and baked goods are also available.
Plant's vision is not just limited to the success of the farmers' market, she wants to help revitalize the downtown area. She and an employee have been hard at work revamping the old Texas theater as a cafe'/restaurant to open in September. There are also plans to open a coffee shop in the near-future.