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Interest in locally grown food increases during the pandemic, farmers band together to ensure Ardmore farmers market happens

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
Robin Brown and her husband, Whitney Brown, stand behind their booth Saturday morning at the farmers market in Ardmore's Central Park. Robin Brown said she took over the farmers market this year after there was talk of not having it.

The Ardmore farmers market almost didn’t happen this year. But when a few local farmers got word of the possible closure, they banded together to ensure the market went on. 

Robin Brown, co-owner of Phoenix Farms in Davis, said there were plans for the market, normally run by the Ardmore Main Street Authority, to be taken over by the Ardmore Institute of Health in 2020. 

“With COVID they kind of decided that it was not in their best interest to take it over at this time,” Brown said. “So they were just not going to have a market and we all got together and said, ‘Hey we’re growing stuff, we need a place to move it.’” 

Brown and her husband, Whitney, then took on the lead role, becoming the face of the local farmers market this year, and gathered a few other local farmers to take part. On the first week the market was open in early June, Brown said it was just them and two other vendors. 

Without any marketing or advertisement, people began lining up at the Market Place on Broadway at 7 a.m.— a full hour before the market normally opens. Brown and several other farmers at the market held at Central Park on Saturday, June 20, said there has been a high demand for locally grown food during the pandemic. 

“It’s been interesting — March, February, April-ish, around that time when COVID really happened, we had an insane amount of people contacting us saying, ‘Hey, what do you have? Can I come out to the farm? I don’t want to go to the grocery store, I’d rather buy from a farm,’” Brown said. 

John Musshafen, a local farmer and co-owner of Circle M Bar Produce, with his wife, Susan, has been selling squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, okra, sweet corn, corn, watermelons and cucumbers at the Ardmore farmers market for the past eight years. 

John Musshafen and his wife, Susan Musshafen, stand behind their booth Saturday morning at the farmers market in Ardmore's Central Park. John Musshafen said there has been high demand for locally grown food during the pandemic.

Musshafen said they have been getting a lot of new customers recently who would normally shop at places like Walmart for produce, but have come in search of farm-grown food. 

“There’s more interest in farms and locally grown — where does your food come from, how’s it grown, how many people touch the food before I take it home,” Brown said. 

Brown and her husband also sell a variety of crops including tomatoes, peppers, microgreens, squash, zucchini and more. Brown said the farm has a 30-member CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, where customers buy into a share of the farm and get a weekly grab bag of produce during the growing season, which is typically 16 weeks long. 

The grab bags are delivered to Ardmore, Lone Grove and Pauls Valley and contain whatever produce is harvestable at the farm at the time. The high demand for locally grown food meant an earlier start this year. 

“We were kind of scrambling at the beginning of the season trying to get stuff in earlier because we weren’t set to really have stuff ready for harvest until the end of May when the market typically opens,” Brown said. 

Though the heavy rains in Oklahoma put a damper on the beginning of the growing season, Musshafen and other farmers said things are starting to pick up now. Compared to last year’s farmers market held in Central Park around this time, Ardmore Parks and Recreation Supervisor Tes Stewart said there was a large amount of produce available. 

“Last year nobody could get anything to grow because of all the rain and everything that we had, so there weren't as many vegetables and things like that,” Stewart said. “Everybody this year said they’re getting a ton of stuff.”

Several Ardmore community members showed up at the farmers market at Central Park on Saturday.

While the market initially started off small, Brown said word of mouth quickly spread and more farmers joined in. Around eight different vendors showed off their products in the park on Saturday and more will continue to sell produce at the Market Place on Broadway on Saturdays. 

“People always love the fresh vegetables and the fruits and the things that they bring,” Stewart said. “It gives them an opportunity to sell their product that they’ve worked hard growing and showcase it— there’s some stuff there that’s like, ‘Wow you grew this’— it’s crazy.”

Prices on produce also generally remain low, with most items costing only a few dollars or less. This offers individuals needing food assistance another cheap option and a variety of produce they may not be able to find at the grocery store, Stewart said. 

Brown said the market will continue to be held from 7:30 a.m. to noon, or until the vendors run out, at 106 East Broadway Street every Saturday until the end of September. Some farmers will also continue to sell pumpkins and gourds well into the fall season

While the market has already grown from its start earlier this month, Brown said she hopes to continue having more people sell items in order to offer a larger amount of produce to the community. “That’s what we want to bring in, people locally that are doing gardens and growing things on their own at home and bringing it in to help support the community,” she said.