Farmers market plans include new White Township location, expanded Blairsville offerings
As spring turns to summer, area farmers will be offering their wares at community markets.
This season, the Indiana County Farmers Market is set to move its Wednesday afternoon sales from downtown Indiana to a lot just outside the borough — at the former site of the BiLo supermarket along Wayne Avenue, across from the Kovalchik Convention and Athletic Center. Vendors will be set up at that new White Township site from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday from June 11 through Oct. 1.
The county market will continue to meet in the S&T Bank parking lot on Eighth Street for its weekly Saturday sales, held from 9 a.m. to noon June 7 through Oct. 25.
On Saturdays, the market will feature a new tent to house children's activities and to welcome customers.
“The ‘Welcome to the Market' part is sort of just basically education about farming and agriculture and the environment and healthy eating, and we're going to be distributing recipes that use the fresh market produce for our customers,” county farmers market board member Chloe Drew said. “The children's tent, we're getting local organizations to come on Saturdays and sort of just sponsor it with activities. Right now we're focusing on the farm-related activities or garden-related activities, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle-type activities. We have, I think, four organizations already committed to a Saturday to come out. That's exciting because I know a lot of people bring their children to the market, and it will be something for them to do as well now.”
Saturdays will also feature tents for community groups, artists and musicians, Drew said.
“We're going to have an artist booth this year, which we had going last year,” she said. “This year it's sort of the same thing where anyone who makes their own artwork from the area is welcome to come for free to our booth one time and sell on a Saturday.” Drew said a goal of the market organizers is to “do more with chefs this year. I've been in contact with four or five different chefs from local restaurants, and I'm trying to get culinary students from (Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Indiana County Technology Center) to come out and do live food demonstrations on Saturdays as well.”
The change in location for the Wednesday sales came after organizers unsuccessfully sought permission to use Indiana's new IRMC Park, on North Seventh Street, that day of the week.
Indiana Borough Council, following a 2-1 recommendation from its Community Development Committee in favor of allowing the farmers' market to use the space, voted 7-5 against approving the move.
“To the best of my recollection, we envisioned the space on North Seventh Street that's called IRMC Park as being used roughly a dozen times during the season for special events,” said Richard Thorell, who chairs the Community Development Committee and voted against allowing the market to use IRMC Park during committee and council votes. “By special events, we think of one-shot deals,” he said.
By allowing the farmers' market to use the park every week, Thorell said, “the use would have ballooned beyond what we envisioned or intended.”
Traffic issues associated with closing off the street, costs associated with paying public works employees overtime to close and reopen the street, and disruption to nearby businesses were also of concern, Thorell said. A funeral home is located near the park.
Thorell also voiced concern about the market's association with the Center for Community Growth (CCG), a group that supports “progressive principles,” according to its website.
Describing himself as a centrist conservative, Thorell said he disagreed with the farmers market allowing representatives from CCG to distribute literature from a booth at the market.”To have a group like this pushing and pushing and pushing in a way that politicizes an issue such as a farmers market is totally ridiculous.”
Peter Broad, who serves on Indiana Bourough's Community Development Committee and council in addition to being a member of the steering committee for the Center for Community Growth, found the reasons cited for denying the farmers market use of IRMC Park less than compelling.
“It's got both Republicans and Democrats as well as Green Party members and I don't know what else on it,” Broad said of CCG.
“Downtown Indiana, the Chamber of Commerce, the merchants I talked to in the area except for the funeral home, all thought it would be a great idea because it would bring more people right into downtown where they could also stop in to the other stores and perhaps eat at the restaurants,” Broad added.
Broad, who acknowledged he was involved with the farmers market's attempt to move its Wednesday operations to IRMC Park, said he was “especially disappointed by the vote, although not surprised.”
IRMC Park would have provided more square footage for the Wednesday market than its previous location in a borough parking lot on South Eighth Street, behind Grace United Methodist Church. The North Seventh Street site would have helped the market accommodate vendors who had to be turned away last year, according to Drew.
“We could fit eight vendors in the Wednesday spot, and last year we had 10 people wanting to come on Wednesdays, so we had to say no to the other two,” she said.
“The IRMC Park site “would have been great for the market,” Drew said. “The location's right in the heart of town, but more than anything, it would have been nice for our borough customers and the borough businesses.”
Moving the Wednesday market to Wayne Avenue will provide more space for vendors, although the location may be less convenient for borough residents even with public transportation available nearby.
“It will give us a lot of space and we're hoping maybe a new customer base with the hospital being right there,” Drew said, referring to Indiana Regional Medical Center. “The only conflict will be (Indiana County) Fair Week, when they use that parking lot for parking. As of now, there's nothing being built there, so we have a good amount of space to work with, which is exciting.”
Blairsville market looks to grow in place
The Blairsville Downtown Farmers Market will be staying put in the parking lot at East Market and North Morrow sreets after volunteer organizers with the Blairsville Community Development Authority reached an agreement with the owners of the new Tractor Supply Company store slated to open in the former BiLo supermarket building associated with the lot.
“That's fantastic because it's such a good spot to be in,” Blairsville Downtown Farmers Market committee chair Connie Constantino said. “I think it will be a good relationship... It is something that goes together. The agrarian atmosphere is going to be right there. I'm sure the people that are vendors are going to be in that store pretty often, and I think that the people that we attract are probably going to just go over there. It's right there within walking distance, so I think it's a win-win for both.”
The Blairsville market will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. every Friday from June 6 through Sept. 12.
Constantino said the market usually attracts about 20 vendors each week. She hopes to have artists and musicians participate as a new feature this year.
“We're just going to enlarge on what we've been doing,” she said. “I've been trying to set up different artists once a month for the market to give demonstrations, so that's going to be something new. I've always liked to include musicians. I haven't really looked into that yet, but I'd love to do that once a month because I think it just adds to the entertainment factor the farmers market brings.”
Schoolhouse site for Strongstown market
The Strongstown Community Market has operated for several years in a former one-room schoolhouse maintained by the Strongstown Homecoming and Historical Society at Route 422 and Historical Road in Strongstown. The market features fresh produce, baked goods and crafts and will be open 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays from June 12 through Sept. 25.
Further details concerning the Indiana County Farmers Market can be viewed at indianafarmmarket.blogspot.com.
For more information about the Blairsville market, visit www.blairsville-pa.net/farmers-market.html.
Information about the Strongstown market is available by calling Juel at 814-243-0289.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.