Local Food for Local Tables

photos by Matt Cornelius
photos by Matt Cornelius

Local Food for Local Tables

Have you ever wandered the produce section at the grocery store and considered where the fruits and vegetables you are buying come from? Maybe they are from another state, or it is possible they have even been flown to your local market from another country. Either way, the produce at your local grocery store is probably not fresh or locally grown.

While fresh and locally grown may be ideal, it is not realistic to believe most of us will plant our own gardens and grow all the fruits and vegetables we want and need. Luckily, Texarkana residents have incredible farmers’ markets where the fresh produce options are bountiful. And because of our twin city status, we are doubly fortunate to have two farmers’ markets, one on either side of the state line. Both markets have local vendors offering vast amounts of produce, crafts, baked goods, canned goods, meat, etc.

The Arkansas side farmers’ market started in 1991 when the board of directors, the Four States Farmers’ Market Association, was established. The market was originally on Front Street. On August 16, 1997, Rick Hall, John Turner and LuAnne Dean started Gateway Farmers Market, and they moved it to its current location at 602 East Jefferson. This season, Gateway Farmers Market is celebrating 25 years of business. Cindy Gladden is the current Market Manager and is serving her second year.

One of Gladden’s many jobs is to inspect every farm to ensure the vegetables are grown locally by the vendor before they can be sold at the market. She also makes sure everything runs smoothly on market days. Gateway Farmers Market is open to the public every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7:00 am until noon, or until everything is sold out. This year there will be 23 permanent vendors and several day vendors. The market season begins each year in May and usually lasts until September, weather permitting. There is a wide variety of tomatoes, beans, peas, cabbage, okra, carrots, radishes, lettuce, beets, zucchini, squash, peppers, greens, onions, potatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, peaches, blueberries and honey. Besides the abundance of produce, many vendors sell homemade crafts, baked goods and a wide variety of jellies. You will also find canned goods such as salsa, relish and pickles and for meat lovers, there is even locally raised USDA beef and pork, ready to stock your freezers.

Gateway Farmers Market is always ready to welcome new vendors to add more variety. If you are interested in becoming a vendor, visit their website at thefarmersmarket.com to fill out an application. Because the market is privately owned, a few rules apply to guarantee vendors continue offering the freshest produce. For example, you must live within a 75-mile radius of Texarkana, Arkansas. They must inspect your farm to ensure your produce is locally grown if you are selling produce. “If you don’t grow it, you cannot sell it.” The same rules apply to crafts and baked goods. Gladden expressed what she loves most about managing the market is “getting to know the farmers who work hard to provide the community with local, fresh vegetables, fruits and much more.” She also enjoys “meeting and interacting with people who come out and support the market year after year.” Gladden’s mother, Mary Littleton, has been a vendor at Gateway Farmers Market for 20 years. She said she thoroughly enjoys being a vendor because she “enjoys people and loves being around them.” Her booth is full of handmade crafts, homemade soaps, jelly and baked goods.

If you are a Texas side resident, you can show your local farmers’ market some support on Saturdays from 7:00 am-12:00 pm
at 500 North Stateline Avenue, across from the United States Federal Court House and Post Office. Their season begins in April and ends the first week of August. You will find individual tents set up side by side, with a wide variety of produce, baked goods, crafts, pottery and other local items. Something unique that Texarkana Farmers’ Market offers is a night market hosted every third Saturday from 5:00 pm-8:00 pm and includes a cultural food demonstration.

Texarkana Farmers’ Market has been open to the public for 12 years. Debbie Benning, a current vendor, has sold her products for the last six years. She sells jams, jellies, various herbal products and hanging baskets. Like many vendors, Benning loves meeting different people on market days. She and her husband have 12 acres in Maud, and six years ago, they became vendors as a way to enjoy their retirement and help pay for their farm.

The Texarkana Farmers Market is operated by the City of Texarkana, Texas, and is managed by Rebecca Beckham. Managing the market “is a huge team effort,” Beckham says, and “involves other staff from the planning and community development team, the city manager’s office staff, vendors, farmer’s committee and the sponsors.” Beckham expressed her appreciation of the interaction that managing the market brings. “Getting to interact with my community on a new level makes me feel like I’m giving back to them in the same ways they did when I was a kid.” She “loves meeting the different people who come and go, understanding the farmers who do this for a living and making lasting connections.”

Beckham would “love to see more customers come out and support the market,” she said. “Bringing more people to downtown Texarkana makes our city feel closer to each other.” Her goal is “more people reaching out to be a part of the market and local businesses getting involved and making Texarkana brighter for everyone.” Like Gateway Farmers Market, Texarkana Farmers’ Market is always looking for more vendors. You can find more information about what it takes to get involved at www.texarkanafarmersmarket.com.

While both markets offer similar items, each has its own unique experience. Something refreshing shared by both is the friendly and welcoming demeanor of their vendors. They are all excited to share their heart about what they do and why they love it, and for some, their love for farming and crafting has been passed down for generations. It is infectious. The sun is out on both sides of State Line, the gardens are full, and the time is right. Whether you visit the Texarkana, Texas Farmers’ Market or Gateway Farmers Market in Texarkana, Arkansas, you will not be disappointed; they are now open for business. Shop Local. Eat Local.


 

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