A Homegrown Initiative: Starkville’s Field-to-Table Movement

By Eddie Childs

For many cities and townships, the farmer’s market is a place where food growers and artisans gather to vend wares, and restaurateurs and residents alike buy fresh produce. As a basic economic building block, these markets play so many roles in a community’s vitality; indeed, a vibrant township would be practically inconceivable
without one.

“[Farmers’ markets are] really the backbone of any community,” says chef and restaurateur Ty Thames of Restaurant Tyler. “And anything supporting them is beneficial to the area economy. I also believe [the produce sold there is] definitely the freshest possible because there’s no transit time; it’s coming right from the growers, so you lose less nutrients than you would transporting it.”

With this in mind, the Starkville Community Market was established in 2008 by Jeremiah Dumas and Tammy Tyndall Carlisle, who both received the 2010 E. Veitch Community Service award for their work in developing it. Now, Dylan Karges and his wife, Alyson, have both stepped forward into leading roles as Starkville Community Market’s site and market managers, respectively. And according to Dylan, under their watch the market maintains a strict definition of “local.”

“[The market has] worked in tandem with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership’s (GSDP) ‘Buy Local’ campaign,” he says. “[GSDP’s campaign is] supporting our entrepreneurs and keeping focus on developing our economy before outsourcing and importing goods and services.”

The market has grown so much, in fact, that in 2010 it relocated to a larger venue on the corner of Jackson and Lamkin streets, on the former site of the East Mississippi Lumber Company. As the principle artist and designer of the site and its elements, Dylan says the market’s new home is ideal because it offers ample access to parking and is easily adapted for handicap-accessibility. He also mentions it’s zoned as a multi-use public space and is adjacent to Starkville’s downtown area.

“Our new site has dramatically increased the potential for positive impact,” says Dylan. “We needed a home we could brand as a permanent location, and that would be a visible link and landmark within the city.”

According to Dylan, the community has rallied to contribute in improving the grounds upon which the market stands. He characterizes the market as a great success in terms of volunteer numbers, which he attributes in no small part to collaboration with Mississippi State University (MSU) and other Starkville institutions.

“From City Hall to the GSDP to the Downtown Business Association, we’ve garnered financial and logistical support,” explains Dylan. “The community has been key, nothing would have gotten off the ground without it.”

And even despite a month and a half of 100-degree weather last summer, Dylan says the market continued to draw strong crowds on Saturday mornings. Its staff also regularly has had support setting up for Saturdays and with the myriad site renovations made to the market since its relocation.

For visitors, the market features live music, arts demonstrations and activities, and other educational activities. “The farmers, producers, artists, craftsmen and musicians are always their own best spokesmen, so it’s natural to encourage them to not only participate as vendors but to inform the public,” Dylan adds.

Among the market’s most popular events, however, are its culinary demonstrations. Notable area dieticians such as Ellen Easley Wallace and chefs like Thames assemble dishes using at least two pieces of produce purchased in the market. “I prepared a cantaloupe soup one time last summer,” says Thames. “The objective is using these products from the market so people can see exactly what can be done with simple ingredients.”

Alyson explains such personal engagement between all these individuals does much in the way of strengthening bonds between various parts of the community. “A lot of times, for instance, [Starkville restaurateurs, like Thames] work with the farmers outside of the market,” she says. “They’ll meet growers through the market and then contact those sources directly; so we’re kind of a meeting grounds.”

Dylan says the market is currently working to provide another access point to help facilitate crowd circulation and help manage the site more efficiently during set up. Design of market green spaces and gardens is currently underway, and the venue has two small sections of fencing to complete. The construction will be finalized, Dylan explains, with the addition of sculptural archways at both entrances. Conceived as a group project for himself and MSU design students, Dylan estimates he and his team will be sculpting and installing the work throughout the upcoming 2011 market season. Taken as a whole, Dylan says such ongoing efforts only serve to cement the market as a center for the community.

“The market and its participants don’t act simply as a storefront selling goods,” he says. “We have a vested interest in [Starkville’s] quality of life.”

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