Okaloosa County Farmers Market Is Expanding & Getting A New Name
The Okaloosa County Farmers’ Market is growing, with plans to provide more space for residents, visitors, and vendors just in time for summer. WUWF’s Danielle Freeman attended the groundbreaking, and the market’s re-naming.
Ceremonial gold shovels in hand, several local and community officials lined up in front of the only existing structure at the Farmers Market to turn the first dirt.
“Now we’re going to throw some dirt…dirt/shovels/talking & laughter…”
At the center of the groundbreaking ceremony was Ruth Clark -- founder of the farmers’ market, “I’m glad that they named it after me because I feel really good about it. I really enjoy this place. We grow vegetables and bring them out here. Fruits and vegetables, and they’re fresh; they’re picked probably the day before we come out and bring them out the next day. Good healthy food.”
Inspired by her husband, Clark’s been selling her home grown produce for 40 years. She’s worked endlessly over the years to grow the Okaloosa County Farmers Market, located east of the Fairgrounds in Fort Walton Beach. And, in acknowledgment of her continuing endeavors, the expansion will be re-named the “Miss Ruth Farmers Market,”“Between us all, we have just about everything. We have greens and tomatoes and potatoes and corn. We have everything that’s in season. They love corn. Corn and watermelon and stuff like that, they love it.”
“We wanted to make a difference. This is inadequate, this is basically a carport and day in and day out Ruth Clark and all the farmers have come out here and stood no matter what the weather. And, so we’re very excited to bring this beautiful new facility to them.”
Carolyn Ketchel is Vice Chair for the Okaloosa County Commission, and spearheaded the enterprise. She says the expansion will be a vast improvement, and a great way to bring together the entire community, “This is a perfect marriage for our county because we’re bringing north end farmers to the south end. And people want this. Everybody wants locally grown produce. It makes a huge difference. But, farmers came and they went away because their wares, their watermelons, their truck beds were sitting out in the hot sun.”
Helping the farmers grow and market their products in the area is Jennifer Bearden, the Okaloosa County Extension Agriculture Agent. Bearden says the expansion will be adjacent to the market’s current location. And, will allow space for sixteen vendors and a few more modern amenities, “They were asking for a larger structure because although there were only three vendors here today, normally during the summer time we have 9-10 vendors here. And 9-10 vendors won’t fit under this structure. But, we were also wanting power to it, for fans in the summertime. We’re also asking for running water, which is also a food safety thing, being able to wash your hands, being able to wash off some of the produce.”
As part of National Public Health Week in April, the Okaloosa County Health Department has joined forces with the County Commission to sponsor the groundbreaking. DOH Director Dr. Karen Chapman says implementing both policy and environmental changes throughout the county will lead to healthier residents living longer -- especially children. Chapman adds the expansion will keep that momentum going, “Eat at least five fruits and vegetables every single day. Because eating a balanced diet with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables is an incredibly important step in reducing heart disease, risk for Cancer, obesity, hypertension, diabetes. So having affordable and fresh and the key’s on fresh here, foods available to our residents is super, super important.”
In recent years, Chapman says, the Health Department has put the emphasis on children, working with childcare centers and schools to promote healthy eating.
They’ve also worked to provide greater access to healthy, fresh foods by partnering with farmers market vendors to include the Women’s, Infants and Children (or WIC) Program
“We are one of the counties that participates in the farmers market food coupon program. It brought in about forty thousand dollars to our farmers last year, just that program. So, our first efforts were focused on our youngest, because, if you are basically obese by four, you’ve got a real uphill battle.”
The Okaloosa County Farmers Market is open from April through September on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 7am-1pm. The expansion is slated to be completed in June or July.
Again, Ruth Clark
“Just come out here and visit us and buy some vegetables.”
-You can take a peek at some of the local produce for sale as well as keep tabs on the progress of the expansion on their FB page: Okaloosa County Farmers Market.
-Ok Co commissioners Website: