Deemed essential by the state, farmers markets around north Mississippi give growers a place to sell ripe produce, handcrafted goods and more.
Written by Michaela Gibson Morris | Photographed by Joe Worthem
As summer begins, the bounty of northeast Mississippi will be ripe for the picking. Fresh from the field, fruits and vegetables will be as close as your local farmers market.
“You can get locally grown produce straight from the field,” said Braddock Brawner, who helps oversee the Corinth Farmers Market No. 1 on Shiloh Road, which has been in existence for more than 30 years. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Through the summer and into the fall, Corinth farmer Dee Suitor expects to have tomatoes, peas, green beans, okra, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, watermelon, cantaloupe and pumpkins for sale at both the Shiloh Road market and the other Corinth market on Fulton Drive. The growing season started early in the new year for Suitor, thanks to his greenhouse.
Although the fields were too wet for planting in late February, Suitor was already working on spring and summer crops. Tomatoes were growing in his greenhouse with hopes of satisfying customers hungry for the first ripe tomatoes of the season.
This year — perhaps more than ever — local farmers and small business vendors selling goods at the markets will appreciate the support of those hungry customers.
Farmers markets are distinct from roadside produce stands. Hosted by nonprofit or government agencies, they bring together multiple local producers. In north Mississippi, farmers markets are primarily sponsored by Main Street associations and county extension service offices.
To be sold at the markets, fruits and vegetables must be locally produced by the farmers. Under the guidelines governing farmers markets, the vendors can’t resell produce grown elsewhere.
So, on opening day, don’t expect to find late summer vegetables that haven’t had time yet to grow in north Mississippi, said Craig Helmuth, assistant market manager for Tupelo Farmers Depot, which started in 1999. Not everything from the grocery store produce section translates for local farmers markets.
“Nobody here grows bananas or oranges,” Helmuth said.
The rules about what can be sold at farmers markets can vary. The Corinth farmers markets focus solely on produce. Many allow homemade canned goods and baked goods. The markets in Pontotoc and Fulton welcome crafters alongside farmers. The Tupelo Farmers Depot requires handmade goods to have some connection back to the farm.
“We’re sticklers for that,” Helmuth said.
The modern farmers market movement is traced to the 1970s and has gained ground in Mississippi over the past two decades. According to the Mississippi State Extension Service, Mississippi barely had a dozen farmers markets in 2000. By 2018, there were 94 around the state.
“People like to know where their food comes from,” said Patrick Poindexter, Alcorn County extension agent. “They are able to interact with these growers.”
The atmosphere at farmers markets brings together people of all ages and backgrounds, and although people can shop quickly and leave, it invites people to linger.
“The farmers market is such a melting pot,” Helmuth said. “It’s a social experience.”
In past years, many markets have hosted cooking demonstrations, live music and children’s activities. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many of those plans are on hold this summer. Market managers say it’s more important than ever to make sure farmers and creators have local outlets.
“We’re trying to cultivate our creative economy,” said Mary Jennifer Russell, who oversees New Albany’s Biscuits and Jam Market, which is shifting to a roadside stand setup this year so certified farmers can sell throughout the week.
Make the most of your shopping experience:
Carry cash. Most farmers are not set up to take plastic.
Bring your own bags to help reduce costs to farmers and help the environment.
Savor what’s in season. Farmers markets have only what is grown locally and is ripe for harvesting.
Ask questions. Farming is a labor of love, and the farmers want to share it with customers.
North Mississippi Farmers Markets
*Dates may be affected by weather or public health guidance.
Corinth Farmers Market
No. 1 (Shiloh Rd.) and No. 2 (Fulton Dr.) Open late May to Oct. 31, Monday-Saturday
More info: Alcorn County extension office, 662-286-7755
Houston Farmers Market
Pinson Square in downtown Houston
Open May 30 to late July, Saturdays, 7-11 a.m.
More info: Our Houston Farmers
Market Facebook page
Tupelo Farmers Depot
415 S. Spring St.
Open May 23 to fall, Saturdays, 6 a.m.-noon
More info: tupelomainstreet.com/famers-market
Oxford Community Market
Community Pavilion on University Open year-round, Tuesdays, 3-6:30 p.m.
More info: oxfordcommunitymarket.com
Mid-Town Farmers Market
Mid-Town Shopping Center | Oxford Open May 2-Oct. 31,
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7-11 a.m.
More info: mtfarmersmarket.com
Off the Square Market
Jefferson and Lafayette streets | Pontotoc Open early June, Saturdays, 7-11 a.m.
More info: Pontotoc County Chamber Facebook page
Ripley Main Street Farmers Market
111 E. Spring St. | Ripley
Open June 6, Saturdays, 7-11 a.m.
More info: Ripley Main Street Facebook page
Iuka Farmers Market
Location and schedule TBD
More info: Tishomingo County Extension Facebook page
Biscuits & Jam Farmers Market
Bankhead and Main | New Albany Open late May-Aug. 1
Monday-Saturday as a roadside stand
More info: Biscuits & Jam Farmers Market on Facebook