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Farmers market offers Ill. Students chance to grow.

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) -- Tina Cooper is hoping the work that is going into the newly started Saturday Produce Market at Richland Community College pays off.

Once she graduates from Richland, Cooper wants to be a small-acreage farmer and finds the produce markets to be a great hands-on learning experience. But she wants it to be more than that.

"When markets get established, it's very much like a community," Cooper said. "You get regulars. People enjoy knowing where their food comes from."

David McLaughlin, Richland's agribusiness and horticulture program director, is hoping to train a fresh batch of farmers with the help of student farm manager Josh McGrath. McLaughlin hasn't found many sustainable farm enterprises in Macon County, so he said there are plenty of opportunities available for those who want to get into the field.

"The market was really put into place for the student," McLaughlin said. "I am training people who want to grow and make some money at it from seed to market. It's really a lot more than just a farmers market. It's an educational program."


The interest in locally grown food doesn't appear to be going away, McLaughlin said. The market rounds out the College's agriculture program, giving students the chance to learn how to sell what they've already learned to grow.

"There is an opportunity to make income," McLaughlin said. "I'm not saying a living. You can take a small piece of ground and generate extra income."

A lot of property is available, even in the city, for people to produce vegetables and not even touch regular farm ground, McLaughlin said.

Nearly 20 percent of all farms in Macon County contain less than nine acres of ground, McLaughlin said. Roughly 41 percent of all farms in the county had sales of less than $10,000, according to the 2007 Agriculture Census.

"I can take an acre or half acre and generate $10,000," McLaughlin said. "That's easy."

In addition to the students, McLaughlin is planning on having up to 15 vendors at the market throughout the season. He said it's more than any one city's market and is open for vendors from within the community college district to participate.

Henhouse Farms of Bement is planning at being at the Richland market and one in downtown Decatur.

"This could even have the potential for catching those in the outlying towns, once it gets rolling," said Kathy Merriman, who runs the Henhouse booth with her father Tom Hensley, and her brother, Tommy Hensley.

"People want to know where it comes from. Especially in this day in age, that's important. They ask how it's grown, and we encourage people to try it."

The market will even feature Amish baked goods from the Homestead Bakery at the Great Pumpkin Patch near Arthur, Ill.

Owner and General Manager Mac Condill said they haven't been in the Decatur market yet.

"I like being able to take the product right to the people," Condill said. "We're able to take the farm right into people's kitchens."

The bakery sent the experienced crew of Wally and Jean Kistler to handle its first appearance. Condill said he was hoping to help the students and share their experience with them.

He hopes the products catch on in Decatur.

"I think once people have our bread, or our cinnamon rolls, or our cookies, especially our angel food cakes, I think they will be repeat customers," Condill said. "It's a neat opportunity. We're going to do everything we can to have people have a positive experience."

Donovan Marschner and his wife, Cindy, enjoyed scanning the Shilling parking lot for fresh produce. They grow some of their own, but the market offers more than what they grow and different options than the grocery store, Marschner said.

"We eat a lot of fruits and vegetables," he said. "There's nothing worse than taking grapes home and they're so sour you can't eat them."

Things are just picking up as the season really gets into full throttle come July. McLaughlin said to look for popular items such as flesh peaches and watermelons as the season goes on.

"We think this is just the tip of the iceberg," McLaughlin said. "I think we've got a nice mix. In a few more weeks, we'll have quite a bit more. The crops will be coming on better."

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Title Annotation:tracking trends
Author:Lusvardi, Chris
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Jul 12, 2010
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