Stop by the Amelia County fairgrounds on a Tuesday afternoon and you will be met by a colorful array of fresh vegetables, canned jams and preserves, bright flowers, and plenty of flavorful homemade foods and local goods. For the past few years, Amelia has gone without a permanent, centralized farmers’ market, and most people had to travel to on-farm stands or more distant markets in the nearby region to purchase locally-grown foods. Thanks to a collaboration between several churches, a board of motivated community leaders, and numerous county supporters, the Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market came together in the spring of 2013, and after a successful season-long run, it is set to open for an extended season in 2014, running from 4-7 PM at the fairgrounds from April 1st through the end of October.
Why the name “Barter Town?” Consumers and vendors have the option to buy, sell, and trade goods and services. In 2013, it was not uncommon to see trades between vendors and consumer for eggs, vegetables, plants, and other goods. For-sale items like local breads, vegetables, cheeses, jams, sausage, plants, crafts, and herbal products retained their popularity each week.
Due to their proximity to buyers in Richmond and its suburbs, Amelia and its neighboring counties are also home to numerous “direct-to-market” farmers who sell goods straight to consumers through venues like Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions, or CSAs, as well as on-farm stores and stands and weekly markets across the region.
Not all of the region’s farm operations are suited to local face-to-face marketing. For example, some crop producers may rely on contracts with grain buyers, and other farms may supply to wholesale outlets or custom buyers. However, direct marketing is the bread and butter for many small-scale, specialty, and niche crop producers in this region as well as many new and beginning farmers who have a diverse set of goods but produce small amounts of each. Even though most direct-market operations sell their products through multiple outlets and go to markets several days of week, close-to-home markets like Barter Town allow producers to keep some of their goods inside the county and serve their own neighbors within the community.
Last year’s inaugural summer season at Barter Town market drew crowds each evening even during the hottest summer days for a time of conversation, community, shopping, and enjoyment of the many musical performances that took place each week. The market also featured some food samples, food preparation demonstrations, and a weekly contest for prizes in categories such as “Ugliest Vegetable” or “Cutest Pet Photo.” Many participants also took part in the “$10 Pledge” campaign offered state-wide by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which offered customers a chance to win prizes for spending $10 each week at local markets and keeping track of purchases using a loyalty card. Because Barter Town exists to serve the community rather than make a profit, support from consumers and community sponsors last year played a vital role in the market’s success as it came off the ground.
Barter Town is just one of the many up-and-coming markets in central and southside Virginia contributing to the growth of “direct marketing” of agricultural goods. Thanks to an increased interest in local foods, small-scale and specialty producers are able to use markets to extend their reach in the community, build a steady supply of willing customers, and make an impact on the local economy. Furthermore, these markets provide a valuable venue for growers and buyers to meet face-to-face to discuss farm production practices and build confidence in the agricultural industry. Barter Town is one of many markets in Virginia proving that great things happen when a community has a vested interest in its own health and success and a motivation to preserve and enhance local agriculture.
Resources for finding local foods near you, including farm stands, subscription services, CSAs, cooperatives, and markets:
- Buy Fresh Buy Local Directory: You can also pick up a printed Buy Fresh Buy Local guide for your locality by visiting your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
- Local Harvest. There are numerous other places you can find local foods, including sites such as
- A note to farm and food producers: Sites like this offer free advertising. Visit them for information about adding your listing, or seek help through your local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.