Small market, big ambitions
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Michael Tupts took advantage of an extra opportunity to sell his homegrown vegetables at a roadside stand across the Millville Community Center on McCracken Pike. Tupts is one of the local farmers participating in the Millville Community Market, which began in May. The market’s regular hours are Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Tupts was set up at the 14th annual Kentucky Heartwood Music Festival, which ran Saturday, July 27, from 3 to 8 p.m. On this day, his second at the community market, Tupts had tomatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, potatoes, half-runner green beans, okra and onions – all grown in Millville. The tomatoes and green beans were selling well, he said. “I actually did pretty good the first week and today, it’s been pretty good business, too,” he said. Tupts was joined under the tent by Sean Miller, who was selling his father David’s first batch of certified Kentucky Proud non-processed honey and honey products, like straws filled with the sweet stuff. Miller said the honey was collected from hives in Millville, Little Germany, Nonesuch and Lawrenceburg. “We’ve had a couple of people very interested in the bee products, the honey products. All this is local, with the family,” Miller said. The Millers and Tupts are just the sort of people Jane Marie Watts and others were thinking of when they formed the Millville Community Market. Watts, who attended Millville Elementary School before it closed in 1984, was one of two speakers who kicked off the festival in the pavilion on the site of what used to be the principal’s office. “I had started growing a crop of strawberries and kind of setting my little table up down here,” she told the crowd, “and it just occurred to me that this would be a great place to have a roadside market.” Watts said during the battle against the Bluegrass Pipeline (the project was put on “indefinite hold” in 2014), she saw the plight of farmers hit hard by declining tobacco revenue. “It made me realize how much they really were desperate and hurting. And I resolved that if we could stop (the pipeline), I would work to make our land valuable again,” Watts said. “It’s getting started slow, but slowly, neighborhood people are realizing they can come down here and sell things and hopefully, add some value to their farms that way.” In an interview later in the day, Watts said she’d received permission from the Millville Community Organization (which rents the former school property from the county) a few years ago to sell strawberries there, and found it to be a good location. She studied the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s certified roadside market program and decided other local farmers could also benefit, while a cut of the proceeds could help the Millville Community Organization pay its bills. “So it just seemed like the perfect solution to a lot of problems at once,” Watts said. A larger goal of the market organizers is to provide a financial incentive for local farmers to not sell their land to future pipeline planners and others whose plans would damage the environment, she said. “It’s really raised our awareness, now that they’ve had that fire at Jim Beam, because it was one of the (Bluegrass Pipeline) routes, and that could have been really devastating if the pipeline had been there. It really reenergizes me into making this place economically viable for the local people,” Watts said. In the works are tax-exempt 501-C3 status and possible upgrades to the kitchen in the community center – and perhaps, after a recent visit from a distillery chef, business from his boss and others in the industry. “He was … just kind of traveling the road, but it was exciting to make that connection. We obviously are hoping to grow and get in with some of the distilleries in the state … and help stock their supplies as we can,” Watts said. Back at the roadside stand, Tupts said there were other reasons he preferred the Millville Community Market to the Frankfort market he’s used in the past. “It’s close to my house, and (it’s) selling to local people that I know in the community,” Tupts said. A few minutes later, he sold three small zucchinis to Margie Stelzer, who works for the Community Farm Alliance, a nonprofit seeking more markets for small farmers. “I think what they have going here, the potential for this space, and the way they are calling the community together, really brings back that old-time feeling of what a farmers market is about,” Stelzer said. “And so I’m just excited that they’re doing that, and seeing what’s happening there.” She was also pretty happy with her zucchinis.