Update: Organizers have decided to postpone the launch of the farmers market until 2023.
You can get tomatoes at any grocery store. But if you prefer them with flavor and don’t like them crunchy, you might be cheered by the news that plans are in the works to bring a farmers market back to Seaford.
The idea to start a new venue for people to buy local produce has moved quickly over the past few months, with volunteers going from gauging interest to talking dates and locations.
The effort is spearheaded by area resident Alan Quillen and supported by City Councilman Matt MacCoy, and the hope is to launch this summer.
Farmers markets have taken off over the past few decades as more people think about the way their food is grown and look to buy it locally. According to the USDA, there were fewer than 2,000 farmers markets in the country in 1994, and that figure has grown to more than 8,000 today.
“I think that the trend of big-time, commercial, thousand-acre farms … it’s not happening in Sussex County farms,” said Steve Breeding, president of the Sussex County Farm Bureau and Seaford resident. “It’s all small-time farms, and you’ve got to sell it somewhere. I mean, I can’t sell my product to Food Lion or Giant, whatever, so I gotta sell it to the masses, local. And that’s what we gotta do from now on.”
This project is actually an effort to resurrect a farmers market in the city – a previous version is now defunct. The Seaford Artisans and Farmers Market started in 2008 according to a News Journal article from the time. Eventually, it became the Western Sussex Farmers Market, but Quillen said it closed at least five or six years ago.
That’s a fate not unheard of for farmers markets. The boom over the past few decades has sometimes led to stiff competition, and a number of markets have seen a decline in vendors and customers, NPR reported in 2019. The story also noted the proliferation of home delivery options for fresh produce.
Other towns in western Sussex have recently started a market or are considering it. Greenwood’s launched last summer, and a Harrington resident is working on plans to get one started there as well. Moving east, Milford has the Riverwalk Farmers Market, and Milton’s Broadkill Farmers Market kicked off last summer, the Cape Gazette reported. Organizers of the Seaford market frequently mentioned Lewes’ successful farmers market as a model.
Greenwood Town Manager Janet Todd said their market will kick off for its second season on Saturday, May 7, and run until October.
In its first season, “The first one or two was a little slow until people realized it was there, but then people were really receptive to it,” she said.
MacCoy expressed optimism about the venture in Seaford, saying the energy is there and it seems like vendors and the farming community are behind it.
“Coming off the pandemic, people want to support local,” Breeding said.
Breeding was among a mix of local farmers and residents gathered at the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club in Seaford on Thursday to come up with ideas and talk details. They covered issues like how often the market will take place, what kind of vendors it should have, and next steps in leadership and planning.
The group agreed to take the Boys and Girls Club up on an offer to partner this summer, which gives the market both affiliation with a nonprofit organization and a location to start out. The market will need to form its own nonprofit for the future and could then move to a permanent location. Ideas thrown around at the meeting included downtown at city hall, the Nylon Capital Shopping Center, or the historic Ross Mansion on the north side of town.
Some suggested the market should be selective about vendors and focus on produce so that it doesn’t turn into a flea market. That’s a shift happening in Greenwood, where Todd said the market featured crafts last year, but is moving this season more toward produce and flowers.
Seaford’s market could start as soon as mid-June. Shane Marvel, of local farm Marvelous Produce, said it’s hard for growers to have the necessary variety of produce before then. MacCoy suggested continuing the market through August this first year.
Several of those in attendance thought it would be important to have the market regularly, as often as once a week as opposed to monthly, so shoppers could get used to the schedule and be able to know when to expect the market to be open.
“It can’t be bi-weekly. I just don’t personally think that would work,” Marvel said. He said the weekly schedule would work better for vendors as well.
The volunteers will now need to figure out the fun details like forming a board and other committees and nailing down the fine print that comes with a group enterprise like this.
Cara Massaro, one of the residents who attended, said she’s lived in Seaford all her life and has seen its heyday and its struggles afterward. She said the farmers market is a great idea.
“I'd love to see something where the community will get involved and rebuild … I think it'll give everyone a chance to get to know each other, to get together, to do something positive,” she said.
For those interested in joining the effort, the next meeting will be Thursday, March 31, at 7 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club.