New Albany has become the beneficiary of a multi-department federal effort to mix locally-grown foods with economic development.
Representatives from the Appalachian Regional Commission, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and U. S. Department of Agriculture were on hand Tuesday to award a Livable Communities grant to be used to improve the local farmers’ market.
New Albany was one of only nine winners from among 63 applicants in 13 states.
The grant was awarded to further develop New Albany’s Biscuits and Jam Farmers’ Market by providing technical assistance to determine the best needs to improve the event. Once those needs have been determined, ARC will provide funds to implement the plan up to $20,000.
Some suggestions from landscape architect Sam Creekmore include pavilions for programs and gatherings, bike and walking paths to the Park Along the River, outdoor gathering and art areas and locations for various special programs, small boat river access, a river overlook and more organized parking. Landscaping and lighting would be used to enhance the character of the farmers’ market area rather than change it.
ARC’s federal co-chair, Earl Gohl, his chief of staff, Guy Land, and Matt Dalbey who is the director of EPA’s Office on Sustainable Communities, presented the grant. Also on the program were ARC State Program Manager Mike Armour and Bill Renick from Three Rivers Planning and Development District.
The federal officials had visited the Louisville area Monday and toured part of Tupelo earlier Tuesday concerning providing gap funding for tornado clean-up efforts.
While in New Albany, they were able to take a walking tour of the market area and how it relates to Tanglefoot Trail.
“I have seen this town transform a lot over the years,” Armour said. “This place has something happening. Jill Smith has one of the best museums in the nation.”
“When people talk about New Albany they say it has a lot going on,” Gohl said. “But you have to finish it. You’ve gotta get it done.”
“My job is not to tell you what to do. It is to listen and learn what your dream is and then determine how to get it done,” Gohl said. “You have work to do. You must put pencil to paper.”
The local market had been held near the courthouse and at the fairgrounds but Sugaree’s owner Mary Jennifer Russell’s allowing her property downtown beside the Tallahatchie River to be used for an expanded market has seen the event grow dramatically over the past two years.
Property owner and market developer Mary Jennifer Russell sees the project’s growth as a parallel to the “superior quality of southern cooking,” with the growing popularity of fresh, locally-grown produce. Although she purchased the land for the purpose of building a larger bakery and adding space for other uses, she said she soon began thinking about how to use the low land that had never seen its potential. The farmers’ market idea grew out of that with the goals of locally grown produce in a good, accessible location, cross-promoted and expanded with music and arts. Judging by the increased attendance numbers the past two years, that plan is succeeding.
“It’s great to see a town like New Albany redeveloping its downtown and developing new sites,” Dalbey said. “This is all good for the environment; you use cars less, you walk more, which is good for the public health.”
“How awesome this is that we could turn land like this into something like the farmers’ market,” Mayor Tim Kent said. “When it moved down here it really took off.”
“We can provide the expertise for mixed-use projects like yours so you can make your community what you want it to be,” Dalbey said.
Some other communities awarded grants were in Berea, KY, Forest City NC and North Wilkesboro, NC. The grant awarded to the city of Aberdeen will be used to study converting an old depot into a public cannery, and also the feasibility of a farmers’ market.
Winners of the grants were selected by a review team of staff from the three agencies and a representative of a network of foundations that have an interest in food system work.
Gohl’s chief of staff said the consulting team will probably make plans to visit New Albany within a month and spend time meeting with those involved and probably having a public meeting.