No limit to need for fresh

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 9, 2014

A farmers market at West End Plaza — formerly the Salisbury Mall — could serve a real need for the people who live on the west side of town.
News last week that Rowan County commissioners agreed to offer space at the county’s newly acquired property for a farmers market caused some to suspect another city-county rivalry. After all, isn’t the city in the midst of establishing a new downtown site for the Salisbury Farmers Market?
But when it comes to fresh local produce, there’s plenty of need to go around. Rowan County has more than 138,000 residents. They should be able to support more than one farmers market. Across the country, farmers markets are experiencing a meteoric rise. The 7,864 U.S. farmers markets operating in 2012 represented a 28 percent increase in just two years and were more than 4.5 times the number of markets in 1994, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Between Rowan and Cabarrus counties, the Agriculture Department has identified eight “food deserts” — areas where low income people lack ready access to healthy food, especially if they don’t have a car.
The mall area is not one of those deserts; there’s a Food Lion across U.S. 70. But a farmers market at the mall would keep residents of Clancy Hills and the surrounding neighborhood from having to cross the highway to get fresh fruits and vegetables. And it would give people from all over the county access to a market with virtually unlimited parking. It might even offer an indoor market.
The success of any market depends on two things: supply and demand. Even if you could be sure of an abundance of shoppers, there’s some question about whether the local Farmers Market organization has enough growers to supply two locations. If not, which location would they prefer for the market?
That’s for the growers to decide, not county commissioners or anyone else. They’ll need more details about what if any amenities and facilities the county might provide at West End Plaza, in addition to space in the parking lot.
When commissioners authorized buying the mall property late last year, they said initial uses would include a new home for the Board of Elections, the Veterans Service Office and transportation services. Taxpayers are still waiting to see a plan come together to justify the rest of the $3.425 million purchase and its upkeep.
Of the piecemeal approach we’ve seen so far, the farmers market is a worthwhile part. Ditto for a place for animal adoptions, another idea mentioned last week. Commissioners are supporting good causes, but that doesn’t lessen the need for a plan.