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For anyone looking for fresh local produce in a delightful shopping environment, the new and improved Cartersville Farmers Market is a worthwhile outing. The market has become a destination experience for all of Northwest Georgia, a place to shop, visit with friends, meet new people, and listen to live music. Conveniently located in downtown Cartersville, at 10 North Public Square, right across from the famous Depot and Friendship Plaza, the market is held every Saturday, from 8 AM to noon, from May through September. 

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Building on Tradition and Embracing Change

Established in 1982, the market became a fixture in downtown Cartersville. For many years, farmers showed up and sold their produce out of the back of their trucks. However, over time the market’s original purpose got lost in the crowd of vendors selling non-agricultural products, and the market started to lose its distinct identity.  There was no marketing manager in those days, so the market became less and less about agriculture and more about arts and crafts, gaining the reputation of a flea market.

Something had to be done.

To this end, the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau worked alongside the University of Georgia Agricultural Extension to hire Regina Shaw as Marketing Director in 2019. Since that point, the progress has been nonstop. “It was a mess at first,” Shaw says, “I felt like people hated me because I had to get rid of the crafters. But we had to make produce essential.”

Now Shaw rotates 50 (or so) vendors through 40 available spaces. The market’s offerings include a wide variety of produce, plants and flowers, baked goods, honey (and assorted honey products), seafood, meats, jellies and jams, marinara sauce, coffee, tea, and bath and body products. And that’s not all; every visit can offer a pleasant surprise, something new and exciting.

Another step in embracing positive change was a commitment to leveraging technology for the good of the cause. To do this, Shaw enlisted the services of Benton Williams as Director of Digital Media. Williams has proven invaluable in creating a platform for the market on various social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. In combination with his talents as a photographer, he has helped create a distinctive branded look for the market. A visit to the website will illustrate his value to the organization.

A Community-Wide Effort

Shaw and Williams are quick to point out that the market’s recent turnaround is not due to any one person; it’s been a community success story. Shaw says, “When I was hired at the end of May 2019, there was no money in the budget to purchase necessary supplies or pay for market entertainment.” 

The Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia has been a vital lifeline for the market. They offered an initial seed money grant to cover startup costs and help with improvements, and they have provided annual assistance ever since. “Our community members also stepped in by spreading the word and shopping regularly,” Shaw says. “The market improvements have had a positive impact on producers, musicians, small business owners, our downtown area, farming families, and our entire agriculture system.”

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Local Purpose, Local Pride

Benton Williams says, “We’re proud to connect guests with local producers. Part of our purpose is to help people know where their food comes from.” Shaw agrees: “We are proud to offer fresh and local food and agriculture products while providing a place that encourages community connections.”

Local, that’s the theme. Local farmers and producers. Local products. Local customers. 93% of the market’s agricultural products are grown or produced within a 45-mile radius of Cartersville. The remaining 7% are products not readily available locally and are brought in by Georgians who live farther away. In honoring this commitment to the community, Shaw has often had to educate customers on what that means. She says, “At first, we had to curb people’s expectations. They had to learn to expect to find what is growing locally, in season. This is a farmers market, not Kroger.” In other words, if tomatoes are not in season here, they’re not going to ship them in from California.

The vendors have been impressed with the local emphasis of the market. When the revitalized market started up, there was no way of knowing if it would work or not. But it did. “The market exploded with customers the first week and remained steady the remainder of the season,” says Lauren Lyle of Stilesboro Sourdough. “It was such a great feeling to provide groceries when the grocery stores were bare. What hope the market has brought to our town this year!” Market veteran, Shane Watson of AM Farms feels the same way: “I’ve been at the market for almost 10 years and it’s better than ever. It’s a great place to be!”

A more personal benefit of an emphasis on the local community is the friendship that springs up from such a cooperative effort. Shaw says, “Some of the vendors have become some of my best friends.” These are relationships built on a foundation of mutual dependability. As Shaw puts it: “It’s a relationship of trust. We do as much as we can for our vendors, and they know and appreciate it. We want them to look good so the market will look good.”

Growing Produce and Profits

At the end of 2020, the market’s vendors reported their sales were four times higher than in previous years. Shaw says, “We grew by leaps and bounds last year.” This solved the problem of vendors trying to sell once or twice but then not returning. Shaw says, “Now, people come and sell for one day and make so much money they come back every week.”

Of the market, Peter Maxwell of Pure Bliss Organics says, “Your customers and visitors are phenomenal! Friendly, curious, jolly and ready to spend.”

Since 81% of the market’s vendors live in Bartow County, they have the satisfaction of knowing their profits stay in their local community. The market is a non-profit endeavor, so the vendors have no fear of being taken advantage of. The market is financially supported by donations, sponsorships, vendor fees, and the proceeds from its own branded merchandise. The Farmers Market Advisory Board guides all market policy to insure a fair representation of vendors, whose offerings range from food, arts, music, and community resources. As a further financial incentive to the public, the market honors EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) for the purchase of all foods (including plants that produce food).

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Looking to the Future

Shaw’s vision for the Cartersville Farmers Market is one of expansion in variety. “A line of pastas would be nice,” she says. “Fresh milk. More kinds of meat. And flowers.” On top of her wish list is an outstanding cheese vendor. Because of certain regulations, selling locally made cheese is a tricky business, but it can be done. (Anyone interested can apply through the market’s website.) “More variety is what we’re looking for,” says Shaw. 

“We want to become a true one-stop shop for food.” Also, the market wants to expand beyond its present months of operation. “Eventually,” Shaw says, “we want to be a year-round farmers market.” She goes on to say, “So far, our 2021 numbers are far exceeding the ones from last year, and we look forward to continued improvements and growth.”

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