Columbus farmers market using $7,000 in grant money to bring more customers downtown

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – The Mississippi State University Extension Service is continuing to support and invest in local farmers markets across North Mississippi.

The Hitching Lot Farmers Market has been a staple in Columbus since 1976. They received $7,000 from the MSU Extension Service to make sure they’re still there for years to come.

“The local vendors need a place to sell their produce at a better price than wholesaling it to a store,” says manager Tony Rose.

Rose has managed the Hitching Lot Farmers Market for 13 years and says they routinely attract customers from the surrounding counties.

“We have a lot of people who specifically look for the farmer’s market or they have a specific vendor that they want to come see and buy their produce,” says Hitching Lot Coordinator Chelsea Best.

With close to 30 regular vendors, Best says that getting the word out to more and more people is vital.

“I’ve had a lot of people interact with our Facebook posts, tagging each other, getting excited about even our crafts that we’re going to have for the kids at the market the next day,” Best says.

Which is why she says they were so excited when the extension service awarded them funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “From Gravel Roads to City Streets” grant, which went towards marketing tools like roadside signs.

“And things to enrich the market experience,” Best says. “Like entertainment and activities for the public to take in, hopefully to get them drawn to the market.”

Activities like live music, a yoga class for kids and even a petting zoo during the 2022 grand opening.

“Ponies and goats and turtles and hedgehogs, all kinds of cute animals and the kids loved to learn about them and how they live,” Best says. “So that was a little educational for them and also a lot of fun. It got a huge crowd.”

Rose says he has noticed plenty of new faces at the Hitching Lot.

“It’s pulled in a lot more customers,” he says. “We see a lot of people that we don’t see usually when we have the entertainment.”

And the farmers aren’t the only ones who can profit from a bountiful harvest.

“I do know a lot of people will come here and then go have lunch at Zachary’s or Harveys or Cafe Main Street, whatever is open that day,” Best says. “Not only just have a fun experience that morning at the farmers market…but also go out, maybe shop a little bit downtown and have lunch with their families.”

Best says they received that grant money before the start of market season in May.

MSU Extension’s Growing Your Brand effort has been ongoing since at least 2021 and has helped fund farmers markets in Itawamba, Lowndes, Clay, Noxubee and Monroe counties.

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