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Farmer’s markets, like one in Newport News’ Hilton Village, are ‘community assets’

(Image: Cynthia Vacca Davis)
(Image: Cynthia Vacca Davis)


Todd Newsome tapped the small brown hollow on the cantaloupe where the stem used to be. 

“You want it to be concave like this,” he explained to the customer at the front of the line,  between tables laden with girthy orange carrots, oversized onions, greens and a plethora of other produce.

A bumpy stem area is an indication that the fruit was prematurely pulled from the vine, he said. 

Newsome, a farmer from Branchville in Southampton County, is one of the approximately 40 rotating vendors that service the Hilton Village Farmers Market in  Newport News every Saturday morning, 51 weeks a year. 

The Virginia Department of Agriculture estimates there are more than 200 farmer’s marketsin the state, and more are beginning to operate year-round like the one in Hilton Village. 

In 2019, then-Gov. Ralph Northam, who leases farmland on the Eastern Shore, declared the first week of August as the state’s farmer’s market week.

He said the markets help increase access to healthy foods, can revitalize ailing downtowns and support local farming businesses.

Meagan Adams, Marketing and Events Manager for Hilton Village is in charge of running the market. She sees it as another way for neighbors to commune with each other and build “true community.”

Adams said she knows people who “come just to come.” Some have lost spouses and others have been alone since the pandemic and are experiencing isolation or mental health issues. The weekly opportunity to mingle with friends and neighbors offers connection that they “need more than the broccoli,” she said.

The Farmers Market Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to strengthening farmers markets across the United States. According to their website, one of their goals is to help communities “regain a figurative ‘town square,’” through farmers markets and experience “the many positive outcomes of foot traffic and community connection.” They say such markets can become “community assets.”

Adams describes Hilton Village as a “sidewalk community,” and says that “being immersed in where you live results in a lot of accountability.”  

“There’s no trash here,” she said  to illustrate her point.

On a recent market day, Dana Robbins was standing near the Fennario Coffee Roasters tent, offering to pour coffee samples.

It would have been easy to mistake Robbins for a vendor, but the Newport News Realtor is simply a coffee-loving market regular. Robbins gets the coffee delivered to her home straight from the business by bike.

That model is just one small example of the economic impact of farmers markets.

The Farmers Market Coalition says community markets gives farmers and makers the chance to earn fair prices for their work and products.

For many vendors, it’s “a gentle way” for micro-businesses to progress into full-time brick-and-mortar small businesses, Adams said..

In turn, farmer’s markets offer consumers access to produce at its most nutritious, according to some studies. 

The Hilton Village Farmer’s Market is open almost every week, allowing consumers to purchase food in season.

Customers in the market for summer watermelon, though, may want to leave two fingers free.

Newsome, the farmer from Southampton, says two digits between the melon’s stripes is a sure way to know the fruit is ripe and ready.

The world changes fast.

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