Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TOP STORY >> Vendor pushes farmers market

Leader staff writer

Judy Herring wants to see the Jacksonville Farmers Market grow like the many vegetables, herbs and livestock on her three acres of land at the Lonoke and Pulaski county line.

The first step is getting the word out that it needs more vendors, the owner of Whole Harvest Farm at 4007 Joshua Road said.

The market is held at a pavilion in front of the community center, 5 Municipal Drive, from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays and from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays. The last day of the market is Oct. 26.

“The fact that I was the only vendor there” was what motivated Herring, 72, to become more proactive.

Several vendors have told her, “We can only be at one (farmers market). We want to go where the people are.”

Herring explained that vendors can earn $100 a day at the Cabot or Argenta farmers markets. She said she understands that, but attendance at the Jacksonville’s market will improve when more vendors participate.

“It has to change, and it can change,” Herring said.

She has spoken with the mayor about designing fliers to promote the market and using the city-owned billboard off Hwy. 67/167 near the Redmond Road exit to direct traffic there.

Municipal Drive connects to Redmond Road right after the exit and that is where a sign with an arrow pointing to the market should be, Herring noted.

She thinks the event is held in a great building with fans that prevent the summer heat from becoming too much for vendors and shoppers.

Another plus is that vendors pay only $25 for the whole season.

“It’s the best deal in town,” Herring said, noting that many markets ask vendors to spend $10 per booth per day.

This is not an unfamiliar venture for Herring. She started farmers markets in Louisiana and Pennsylvania.

Herring said, “There’s all kinds of people out there.”

She noted that people with their grandma’s old recipes or craft makers could come sell their goods at the market too.

Already the Pulaski County Extension Service has offered to set up information tables and the nutritionist at Little Rock Air Force Base is encouraging military families to attend the market, Herring said.

“One of the things I’m doing is tapping into my community. There are two groups I’m very interested in,” she continued.

Herring explained that she wants young airmen who don’t have big salaries to turn away from junk food and toward affordable vegetables available at farmers markets.

Another group she thinks the market can help is the elderly and low-income families who don’t think they can afford fresh food.

“It’s corporate America putting out the food. It looks pretty in the store, but what is it doing to our bodies?” Herring said.

Her farm’s vegetable gardens include plants that help keep bugs away. Also, tall plants are next to those that need more shade, which is called companion planting, Herring noted.

In her passive solar greenhouse, plants are grown from organic seeds that are not genetically modified. Passive greenhouses do not use artificial heat sources.

The farm’s orchard has apple, fig, nectarine, peach and pear trees.

There are strawberries and a large herb garden with cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano, Thai basil and more.

Herring also caters to the “green smoothie” crowd by growing wheat grass and other ingredients, like kale.

She uses 100 percent natural and food-grade coconut oil and food-grade lye to make soap. The latest addition to that line of goods is soap made with her goats’ milk.

Herring may seem like a superwoman, but she is humble enough to know that she couldn’t do all she does without help from friends and family.

Her sidekicks are her daughter, Jena Voehringer-Redger; her daughter’s fiancĂ©, Travis Redger; his grandfather, Dean Redger, and two friends, Ginny Mack and Corinne Cafferty.

Herring bought her house and farm in Arkansas in 2011. She takes care of 56 free-range chickens, three roosters and five goats there.

Herring’s vision is for the property to be a permaculture farm where all of the land is used and everything planted is edible. “We use the whole of everything. We recycle,” Herring said about how the farm got its name.

Herring’s green thumb is hereditary, she added.

Her grandmother was German. “They make everything,” Herring explained.

She noted how her grandma reacted when any of the children became ill.

“The first thing she would do is put her hand on her head and pray for us. The second thing she did was give us awful, awful (tasting) herbs, but we got better.”

Community involvement is Herring’s other passion. Her husband, who passed away in 2005, was a farm manager in 1975 or 1976, Herring said.

She was in charge of outreach and their herb garden.

Herring is on the board of directors for the nonprofit Southern Mutual Help Association. Its mission is to build rural communities in Louisiana. The association was founded in 1969 to address the deplorable housing conditions of sugarcane workers, Herring said.

She used to live in New Iberia, La., where the association’s headquarters are.

While Herring and her husband were there, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc. New Iberia is located in the center of the state, Herring explained, so she helped the victims of both storms recover from their losses.

Herring said she managed the logistics of 6,000 volunteers bringing aid to 120 small, rural communities when they were affected by the natural disasters.

She is also a member of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, which includes 44 Arkansas farmers and others from nearby states.

Many of the farmers are purists, dedicated to natural growing and not using pesticides or any other chemicals.

“It’s becoming a close-knit group of people wanting good food,” she said about the organization.

Herring is part of the Rural Local Initiatives Supporting Communities too. The group is connected to how the government helps communities, she said.