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Coalition wants to bring farmers market to mall

January 29, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - When the County Market closed in the South Gate Mall last summer it left a void for many customers who shopped there for its fresh foods.

Now a coalition of social activists, area farmers, the Wilson College Farm, some students and the Community Environmental Legal Defense fund hope to fill that void by bringing a farmers' market to the mall.

An exploratory meeting Friday night at the college library brought out more than 40 people who expressed interest in such a project.

The farmers market is the brainstorm of Tonami Jones, 27, a single mother and Wilson student who took it on as part of her sociology course studies.

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The meeting was organized to learn if there was interest among farmers for such a venture.

An outdoor farmers market opened in the South Gate Mall parking lot several years ago with 15 vendors, but owners of the County Market protested about the competition. It closed after only one set up, said Gino Toigo, owner of Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pa.

He said the market had great promise and would have been a success had it been allowed to continue.

"It was a good market. People came from all over Chambersburg. I opened my stand at 7:30 a.m. and I was sold at a 9 a.m.," Toigo said.

Toigo and others present Friday said the only way a farmers market can succeed is if it's producer only, meaning all the food sold is grown by the farmers who participate. In a nonproducer only market produce that's bought elsewhere can be sold.

Toigo said local farmers can only sell vegetables such as asparagus and onions in the early spring.

"We can't compete with vendors who bring in cauliflower and fresh peppers in the spring," he said.

William Grantham, owner of Tudor Hall Farm Market in Kearneysville, W.Va., is a member of the executive board of the Shepherdstown, W.Va., open air farm market. It runs from April through November on a closed-off portion of South King Street.

Grantham said Saturday that about 25 percent of the food sold at the Shepherdstown market is not locally grown.

"We tried a producer-only market in Charles Town (W.Va.) but it flopped. People expect to see a full line of products in the market," he said.

Cindy Hospodor is a Wilson student, member of the coalition and a family life mentor whose clients include low-income and elderly people who live in the south end of Chambersburg. She said a farmers market in the mall parking lot would provide those families with fresh, nutritious food.

She said the owners of the mall are amenable to the idea.

Matt Steinman is director of the Wilson College sustainable agriculture farm. It raises and sells vegetables to customers who pay for it by subscription at the beginning of the annual growing season.

Steinman said the farm would join a farmers market at South Gate mall.

About a dozen members of the audience were farmers, most of whom just listened.

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