The Farmers Market in Whitesburg is paying dividends in the local economy.
What started as a few tents in a downtown parking lot, has grown to 43 farmers, as many as 29 in a single day, according the Janet Kincer, manager of the market.
The market is a project of Grow Appalachia, a nonprofit founded to push the idea that agriculture can be a viable alternative industry in eastern Kentucky. It gives small farmers an easy way to get their crops to market. The market sold about $35,000 in locally grown vegetables in 2015, its first year of operation, but that grew to $109,000 last year, mostly as a result of the “Farmacy” program, Kincer said.
Farmacy started as a research project of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, a nonprofit healthcare provider based in Whitesburg with eight primary care clinics and 13 school clinics in five eastern Kentucky counties.
MCHC patients with chronic problems such as a diabetes, high blood pressure, and high-risk pregnancy, can get vouchers worth $1 per day per person in their family to spend at the farmers market. Patients have to return to MCHC for regular blood pressure checks and other tests. One patient, Kincer said, lost 60 pounds, and saw his A1C, a measure of average blood glucose, drop from 14 to 6.
The program started with a grant to MCHC, but then other companies decided it was worth investing in.
“ Wellcare, Passport, Delta Dental and Bluegrass Bank and Trust saw it, and saw it was working and said, ‘Hey, we want in on it, too,’” Kincer said.
Some of the people who sell at the market are growing their farming operations as well, and more people are trying new products. The farmers market this year is expected to sell fruit, vegetables, honey, maple syrup, crafts and meats, all locally produced.
Kincer said the market will reopen the first weekend in June.