Smithfield Herald

Rain shutters farmer’s market

An unusually wet summer has forced the Smithfield farmers’ market to shut down early, and officials say they’re unsure about the market’s future.

Tim Johnson, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said several vendors had dropped out, leaving the market with just two. Rain was the chief culprit, he said.

According to the National Weather Service, the Raleigh-Durham area received a little more than 10 inches of rain last month. That’s about 6.5 inches above the June average and nearly seven inches more than last June’s total. It is also less than a half-inch short of the record, set in 2006.

Some vendors were unable to harvest their crops because their fields were flooded, Johnson said. “It’s always kind of dependent on the vendors and what kind of produce they’re selling,” he said of the market. “A lot of them couldn’t get in the field to get their stuff.”

Rain also hurt sales, with fewer people visiting the lot on North Bright Leaf Boulevard. The market was outdoors, covered only with tents, which made it hard for customers and vendors to stay dry.

“I don’t know of anything we could have done differently,” Johnson said “Maybe could have used a permanent shelter.”

Johnson said he doesn’t consider this year’s market a failure. “When we had a full compliment of vendors there and the weather was good, we did fairly well,” he said. “We just got in that monsoon season over several weeks; it kind of wiped us out,”

Town Manager Paul Sabiston said shutting down the market was the right call to make. “It just didn’t seem fair, with one, two vendors showing up, to advertise it,” he said.

The town budgeted $5,000 for the market this year, with some of that money used to move the market to North Bright Leaf Boulevard and improve the parking there. Organizers were hoping the changes – a space with better parking on a heavily traveled road – would attract more vendors and shoppers. Before the move, the market was in a small park next to town hall.

At $5,000, the farmers’ market was a drop in a town budget approaching $39 million, but Johnson acknowledged that it could be a target of budget cutters next year. It was on the chopping block this year, but the council spared it.

Johnson said he sees the farmers’ market as a service for shoppers and vendors, but the council might decide it’s not important enough to save – especially if money is tight. “You kind of have to weigh the priorities and where it’s best to spend the money,” he said.

For his part, Johnson would like to increase the market’s budget to $7,500, with the money going to promote the market. “It has been, pretty much, self-supportive,” he said. “But I think to really be successful, there would need to be more money put into it for advertising and all.”

Like Johnson, Sabiston is unsure of the market’s future. “We’ll have to take it year to year and see,” he said.