In 2016, Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development conducted a study to look at the feasibility of a farmer’s market in downtown Hillsville, a town in Carroll County, VA. Four years later, Hillsville broke ground on the structure for the farmer’s market after getting approval to build in a historical district.
“I think this project was unique and refreshing in that we really got to focus on equity issues in the community. As a result, we got to take a nuanced and strategic approach in thinking through the development of a farmer’s market, that would be, in the long run, more inclusive and equitable to low-income families and families of color,” said Sarah Lyon-Hill, an economic development specialist who led the project in 2016.
When working on the feasibility study, economic development specialists analyzed other farmer’s markets in the region, best practices, and the potential location of the farmer’s market. Researchers suggested Hillsville start small with the farmer’s market, recommending they set up a temporary market and take the time to grow and attract vendors and shoppers.
A few other key recommendations included reaching out to community partners to promote the market, partnering with other farmer’s markets, targeting low-income families, and creating an inviting atmosphere with planned events.
A year after the completion of OED’s feasibility study in 2017, Hillsville set up their farmer’s market.
“We appreciate the feasibility study that OED conducted for us,” said Retta Jackson, Town Manager of Hillsville, “as it helped us know what was possible.”
The farmer’s market started with half a dozen vendors on average, a number that has now doubled. The vendors sell a wide variety of products such as honey, coffee, herbs, produce, eggs, crafts, and baked goods. Each week, the farmer’s market has a food truck with food from local restaurants like Slider Kings and Taco ‘Bout.
“It was very exciting to break ground on the structure,” said Farmer’s Market Manager Teresa Catron. “We had waited a long time for this to happen. Some of our vendors have been around since 2017 so it is great to see the vision for the farmer’s market structure become a reality.”
“I’m glad they started small and continued working at it because as you see today, they’re going to get this beautiful structure to host their farmers market on a weekly basis with a great location,” said Lyon-Hill.
The market offers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to low-income families. Consumers can redeem their SNAP benefits by swiping their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card in exchange for coins that they then use to make purchases at the farmer’s market.
Hillsville used flyers and social media such as Facebook and Instagram to grow their presence and attract more shoppers and vendors to the market. The free events the town offers also draw in more people.
“We wanted to utilize the farmers market as a cultural center and use the space for some of our events. People may learn about the farmer’s market from being in Hillsville for a certain event,” said Jackson.
The town of Hillsville offers many free events, and just a few include the Summer Night Concert Series, Classic Car Cruise-Ins, trick-or-treating, a tree lighting on Christmas, a Fall Festival, and a Courthouse Tragedy play.
“The market has made a difference in Hillsville by promoting local artists and talent and making the town more lively. It is a big draw for the town of Hillsville as people make a day of it and go there for lunch or to attend events,” said Jackson.
Due to the farmer’s market, the youth in Hillsville have been exposed to local growers and vendors.
“Hillsville plans to host a monthly Sunshine Market, where children in the community can set up their own tents and learn more about healthy eating and farmer’s markets,” said Catron.
The Healthy Kids Bucks Program, sponsored by Magellan Complete Care, and Virginia Cooperative Extension & Eat Smart Move More, also helps children learn about healthy shopping.
Plans for the future of Hillsville include having the farmer’s market structure completely built by next year and hosting the farmer’s market on more than one day a week, as well as on holidays. Currently, the farmer’s market is open on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“The slogan of Hillsville is ‘A great place to visit and an even greater place to live,’” said Jackson. “We want to grow and expand the farmer’s market, attract more people, and help everyone see how great the town of Hillsville is.”