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Thursday, September 18, 2014, 2:46 a.m.
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Little Rock Farmers Market to harvest 40th year

By Jennifer Nixon

This article was published May 1, 2014 at 2:29 a.m.

fresh-flowers-fruits-and-vegetables-and-a-party-atmosphere-return-to-the-river-market-district-as-the-little-rock-farmers-market-opens-for-its-40th-year-saturday

Fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables and a party atmosphere return to the River Market District as the Little Rock Farmers Market opens for its 40th year Saturday.

When the weather gets warmer, mouths start watering at the thought of strawberries, tomatoes, peaches and squash and since 1974, the downtown Little Rock Farmers Market has been one of the biggest, most popular places to find such fresh produce.

On Saturday as the market opens for the season, patrons will get to taste something else too: birthday cake. Yes, it’s time to break out the balloons and for mascot Dean the Bean to don a party hat. The market is turning the big 4-0 and will celebrate with party favors, a giant sheet cake and a birthday party atmosphere which should kick off about 9 or 10 a.m., according to River Market Operations Director Diana Long.

But the opening is always a bit like a party, she says. Some of the vendors at the market have been participating for 40years and they have regular customers.

“It’s very much a family atmosphere down there,” Long says. “It’s like a big family reunion every year because they haven’t seen these people in six months.”

In the past, the market was open Tuesdays and Saturdays in the morning and early afternoon for the full season, but they’re making a scheduling change for this year. The sanctioned Farmers Market will be open on Tuesdays, 3-7 p.m. during the peak season of May 27-Aug. 26, for a “Night Market,” though if farmers want to sell in-season produce before that date or earlier in the day, they’re welcome to do so.

The change came, Long says, because it was difficult for working people to visit the market during its old hours on a Tuesday. Even for those who could, “You don’t want to buy fantastic produce and have it sit out on your desk for six or seven hours.”

This way, people who live or work downtown can stop by on their way home from work instead. They’re also planning to have entertainment, “making it feel like an event.”

“We wanted to do something fresh and fun and we thought this would be a great time to make this type of change,” Long says.

An ideal time to stop by the market is the second Saturday of every month when there will be special visitors, including volunteers and adoptable pets from Rock City Rescue, programs from Central Arkansas Library System and Arkansas Master Gardeners. There will also be a monthly drawing for a $40 basket of Farmers Market goods.

While there is a focus on locally grown produce, the rules for vendors are not terribly strict and Long explains that leads to more variety. Some small farmers have relationships with farmers in neighboring states and can supply produce that isn’t in season in Arkansas just yet.

The market isn’t just for farmers either. There’s a long list of arts and crafts vendors selling everything from jewelry and woodwork to candles. This year they’re hoping to add meat sellers.

Parking can be sticky downtown, particularly on fine-weather Saturdays. Long reminds patrons that the central parking lot by the market is free on Saturdays. While the Veggie Valet service, in which patrons could drop off their purchases and pick them up later, was under-used and has been canceled, Long says that there will be a reserved area for handicapped and elderly parking.

If that lot is full or it’s a Tuesday, when there’s a charge, many farmers and vendors will have Farmers Market parking passes to give to patrons so they won’t have to pay to park in the lot or the deck.

“We try to accommodate that parking thing as much as possible,” Long says.

Little Rock Farmers Market 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 25, 3-7 p.m.

Tuesdays May 27-Aug. 26, River Market, Little Rock (501) 375-2552 rivermarket.info

Weekend, Pages 34 on 05/01/2014

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