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‘Farmers Market of the Ozarks’ seeks new directions, permanent home

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Developers of a new permanent pavilion for the Farmers Market of the Ozarks have released new drawings and and a fresh artist’s conception of what a new structure might look like.

Even in a temporary home around and under a bigtop tent, the market has drown curious visitors and plenty of growers. The additional of weekly food demonstrations and sampling, live music, crafts, special events and a 150-mile radius for vendors has further swelled the number if sellers.

Lane McConnell, whose background includes several years billing herself as “The Market Lady,” promoted farmers markets statewide and around the surrounding edges of Missouri, giving her plenty of insight and credibility with growers, who knew her to but tough enough but fair.

She envisioned the market and found willing listeners immediately. She is serving as market manager, but a board of directors meets regularly. McConnell also has an intern from at College of the Ozarks, Ashlyn Moore of Rogersville, whose major is public relations and event management. McConnell is from Mountain Grove and lives in Hollister.

The dynamic of the group has been to market aggressively, but to keep a low media profile. The group will be at the Ozarks Empire Fair through the event. Keeping a low profile has not always been easy as word of the market first trickled out and then poured.

The group approached Matt O’Reilly with the idea of building a permanent facility. O’Reilly properties were already in the neighborhood, including Houlihan’s and Matt’s distinctly green retail center, “Green Circle,” home of Dynamic Earth and Mama Jean’s Natural Market.

Hmong Flowers

Hmong growers are among the most active vendors at the market.

They got their wish when he said he would develop the market. Construction is imminent, with completion due in early in 2013.

“At the beginning of this I was by no means an expert on local food and farmers markets, I’m still not,” O’Reilly said in a recent interview.

“Having served on the Natural Environment Committee for Springfield’s Strategic Plan, it was interesting to see that ‘local food’ had by far the most objectives in the Strategic Plan, (more) than any other topic in that chapter,” he wrote.

“I’m a huge advocate of community sustainability and nothing embodies sustainability like local food. You just have to travel a bit to see the benefit that a healthy and consistent Farmers Market has for a community. It is the hallmark of sustainability and given the huge resurgence of local awareness and health awareness, local food is definitely the next ‘green’. This is just the beginning, I think.”

Indeed, McConnell says there is a waiting list of nearly 100 vendors who would like to sell at the new market, which has averaged about 80 on weekends and 45-48 on Thursday. She tracks a variety of indicators, including sales and attendance. On one recent weekend, more than 8,000 people showed up to browse.

Mark Frank, who lived for 12 years in Japan and now grows Asian produce at Echigo Farm with his wife, Kumiko Nagai, says community partners are welcome.“We are aiming to create a multi-faceted destination market for the area. While the main focus of the market is locally grown agricultural produce, we also feature area artisans, restaurants and food vendors, and other local businesses. We welcome participation from community partners such as Harvest on Wheels and Mama Jean’s Natural Market.”

“We see people of all ages, backgrounds, philosophies, and beliefs at our booth, all looking for the same thing: healthy food that they can believe in. We see food as a great unifying force in our society: the one thing, perhaps, that can overcome differences and barriers. In the end, we all share the same human physiology and the same soil. I think the changes in attitude have just begun.”

McConnell admits she’s had to be tough with a couple of vendors who wanted to bend the rules. But her statewide background, reputation, and lots of long hours have helped with discipline and rumor control.

“I want them to make money,” she says. “I want them to be sustainable.”

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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