The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded New Castle County a $250,000 grant to grow its farmers’ markets, County Executive Thomas P. Gordon announced Tuesday.
“This grant is a great win-win-win opportunity because the federal funds will be used to increase residents’ access to fresh produce for their families’ health and enjoyment, raise awareness of our markets that bring local farmers’ products to their areas and increase local opportunities for our agricultural community,” Gordon said.
The Farmers Markets Promotion Project will support promotion, marketing and outreach for the county’s newly acquired Cool Spring Farmers Market in Wilmington, adopted by the county this year after the nonprofit West End Neighborhood House bowed out, and a new farmers’ market the county plans to open in June 2017 at the new Route 9 Library & Innovation Center, now under construction near New Castle.
“The plan is to develop and implement marketing and promotional efforts that will increase the number of participating farmers by half and raise the markets’ overall sales by at least 25 percent,” said General Manager Sophia Hanson of the county’s Department of Community Services.
“This grant gives us a tremendous opportunity to provide support for farmers entering these new markets and promote the launch our new farmers’ market as part of revitalizing the Route 9 Corridor not only with the state-of-the-art Library & Innovation Center, but the county’s ongoing efforts to increase homeownership and the quality of life for residents in the area,” Hanson said.
Through the planning, marketing and promotion, the New Castle County Cool Spring Farmers Market and the new Route 9 Library & Innovation District Farmers’ Market both will build the food supply chain for areas with census tracts federally designated as having low income residents with limited access to wholesome foods such as fresh produce, Community Services Manager Jane Rattenni said.
“We are especially excited about the aspect of the grant for developing our regional farmer outreach and recruitment plan, meeting with farmers and producers, and the percentage and diversity of farmers at our New Castle County Farmers Markets,” Rattenni said.
New Castle County also operates farmers’ markets May through October at Glasgow Regional Park, Rockwood Park & Museum near Wilmington and Carousel Park & Equestrian Center in the Pike Creek area. The county also has hosted a farmers’ market for the Route 9 area at Garfield Park Community Recreation Center.
The markets already are growing strong, according to their coordinator Michael Begatto. This year’s markets’ overall attendance of 32,705 visitors reflects an increase of 10,980 or 50 percent from last year, with revenues totaling $331,828 for an increase of $96,666 or 41 percent from last year, he said.
The most popular site -- at Glasgow Regional Park at Pulsaski Highway (U.S.40) and Del. 896, where the renovated historic barn provides market space -- has been extended past the usual season, with the market hours 3 to 7 p.m. on Fridays through Nov. 18.
A total of 52 vendors participate in the markets, selling locally produced or made goods from fruits, vegetables and meats to honey, soaps, baked goods and gourmet desserts.
Another indication of the Farmers Market Program’s growing popularity is that its Facebook page topped 1,300 likes this season.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service announced the county program’s grant as the only one awarded in Delaware, one of 28 states to win the competitive grants.
Other states receiving grants are California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin,
Awards ranged from just under $85,000 to support a program in Champaign, Illinois, to $500,000 for expansion of producer-to-consumer markets in Massachusetts.