HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs Farmers’ Market Pavilion is finally becoming reality. Maria Antela, the Farmers Market Manager at the time the grant was written, applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Business Enterprise Grant for $199,441, to construct a pavilion to house the city’s farmers’ market.
The purpose of the grant was to provide a location for small businesses to have a place to grow locally. USDA offers the grant to provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses. “Small” in USDA terms means that the business has fewer than 50 new workers and less than $1 million in gross revenue. The funds must be used for projects that benefit rural areas or towns and grant money typically assists with economic development planning and/or the financing or expansion of rural businesses.
At the time Antela wrote the grant, Carol Rowan, the current Farmers’ Market Manager, was a volunteer coordinator. One of the grant stipulations was that the vendors had to provide their tax information showing that they were a legitimate business owner, which they were easily able to do.
“There were 17 of us vendors that provided the required tax information, but we had approximately 35 vendors at that time. Over the years, with delays and changes, the 16 other vendors dwindled away and I am the only one of those 17 that still remains at the market,” said Rowan.
“There have been approximately eight vendors that have stuck by me throughout all the delays and extensions from 2013 to the present time in order to keep it a market,” she said.
Rowan and Basti Gonzalez co-managed the market for part of 2013 and Rowan took over management and became a City of High Springs employee in 2014. For a while CRA Director Kristina Wright and Finance Director Jennifer Stull filed extensions every two years in order to keep the grant active. When Wright left the City, Stull took over all of the aspects of the project and acted as liaison for the Farmers Market with USDA.
According to CRA Director David Sutton, “Stull is the one who took the project from inception, met with the architect and got the bids for the pavilion. She was on top of this project all the way,” he said.
USDA provided funding to the project on Sept. 25, 2014. “They give out those big checks, but they don’t really give you the money until you begin digging dirt. That’s when you get your money,” said Rowan.
Once work began on the project, the market had to vacate their space and they moved over to the parking lot at City Hall on Fridays since City Hall was closed. “At that point,” said Rowan, “the market changed from Thursdays to Fridays, but we kept the same 12 – 4 p.m. hours as always.”
Construction started, but slowed down when COVID-19 hit. “We were supposed to be in by the end of August, which didn’t happen. Then we were supposed to move in last week, but that didn’t happen either,” she said. Apparently, a punch list of items still needed to be addressed, which has now been taken care of.
Last week the Farmers’ Market had 19 vendors show up. All together approximately 30 vendors take advantage of the Farmers Market in High Springs according to Rowan’s records. “Everyone doesn’t show up every week,” Rowan said, “but right now I have the entire pavilion booked for the ribbon cutting and grand opening at 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 27.” She said it is possible that more may show up, and tents will be set up to accommodate them.
The City plans to have light refreshments and beverages to keep everyone hydrated said Sutton. High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan will act as master of ceremonies for the event.
Once the pavilion formally opens, the Farmers Market will be open on Fridays from 3 – 7 p.m. Rowan did a survey on the Farmers Market social media page and asked the citizens which day and at what times they wanted to visit the Farmers Market. “We had an overwhelming number of views and this is the day and time they chose,” she said. “We’re here to serve our citizens. If that’s what they want, that’s what we’ll do.”
Previously, the market couldn’t stay open after dark. “It just wasn’t safe. We didn’t have lights and it was just too dangerous for vendors to be out here that late,” Rowan said. “Now, we’re in a safe and protected environment so we can more safely accommodate the later shoppers.”
In addition to High Springs’ dignitaries, staff and citizens, invitations have gone out to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Congressman Ted Yoho, State Representative Chuck Clemons, Senator Keith Perry, State Representative Clovis Watson, Jr., Miss Florida Gator 2020, Ashtyn Brown, the 2020 State of Florida Watermelon Queen, who is also the Newberry Watermelon Festival Queen, Bethany Barfield, County Commissioners and dignitaries from area cities.
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