Market fosters farming, friendships

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, July 22, 2012

The magnolia trees of Railroad Park provide an expansive canopy. A green pickup truck is backed to the curb, its bed filled with watermelons. Empty glass milk bottles are scattered under a table selling fresh dairy products.

     It’s a normal Friday morning at the Brookhaven Farmers Market, and it’s a colorful place.

     The greens, reds and yellows of squash, tomatoes and zucchini. The amber of honey in sealed jars. The off white of milk glistens in the nearly-noon sun as the dripping glass bottles are pulled from an ice chest.

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     Staked out under a magnolia tree, Bobby Douglas has all the shade he could want, all the tomatoes he could ask for and plenty of customers to talk to.

     Douglas, 77, has been participating in the Brookhaven Farmers Market since it began four years ago. The days he’s there, he usually has his farming partner with him: a grandson, Owen Douglas.

     The 11-year old has been picking vegetables since before he could walk and coming to farmers markets since he was 5. His favorite part of farming is picking the produce when it’s ready.

     “I love to work,” Owen Douglas said.

     The market is more to Bobby Douglas than a time to sell excess produce. There’s quality time with his grandson and opportunities to strengthen local ties.

     “You get to socialize, see your friends,” Douglas said.

     He also can receive feedback from satisfied customers.

     “They’ll tell you how good those tomatoes were,” Douglas said.

     Douglas has been growing produce about 15 years now. He was a boilermaker in Baton Rouge for many years but on retirement, returned home to Lincoln County.

     After retirement, Douglas raised veal calves for a while, but he said there’s a lot of risk in calves. After a while, he switched to farm products he found more manageable.

     Bobby Douglas and his wife, Barbara, have three primary vegetable patches. There’s watermelons, okra and cantaloupe. Behind the barn, tomatoes sprout up surrounded by all beans and squash. Vegetables are all over.

     The couple sells at markets in Tylertown, McComb and Brookhaven. Owen Douglas believes they may eventually have to expand and visit the Magnolia market.

     Barbara Douglas values local produce because she said it’s been grown in a way suited to the climate and environment, and that brings quality.

     “It’s got the right kind of fertilizer,” Barbara Douglas said, describing their produce.

     The couple can also avoid the chemical pesticides large industrial farms use.

     “It doesn’t have all the poison on it,” Barbara Douglas said.

     Barbara Douglas likes to ensure the food she buys can boast the qualities of the food they sell. If she wants some produce and doesn’t grow it, she tries to buy it from other market vendors even if that may bring a slightly higher price tag.

     “It’s homegrown and I know where it’s from,” Douglas said. “It’s fresh.”

     Farmers market organizer Rebecca Bates also highlighted the value of freshness. Bates, the Mississippi State University extension service director, described farmers markets as a primary venue of fresh food within a community.

     Beyond freshness, the farmers market also fosters a bond between producers and consumers, said Bates.

     “Locally grown food is important. To know the producers, know who is growing, you get a connection to your food,” Bates said. “That’s becoming very important to people across the U.S.”

     This bond does not just foster knowledge of the food consumers purchase, but sustains a strong social element.

     “It’s becoming a very important venue in town,” Bates said. “You can sit on a bench and talk with producers.”

     Bobby Douglas also highlighted this point, explaining how relying on grocery stores divorces consumers from the origin of food and the conditions necessary to grow it.

     “If you get a tomato in a store, you don’t know where it came from,” he said. “Some of them come all the way from California.”