SUBMITTED BY: SHEILA D. NELSON
ON BEHALF OF PULASKI COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
THE MARKETPLACE at the historic Train Station in downtown Pulaski is celebrating its 5th season this year! Everyone was so proud that first evening five years ago when six vendors set up to sell fresh, locally grown produce!!! Prior to this opening, the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce had spent months planning, researching, networking, and meeting to develop a blueprint for a farmers’ market that would be successful in the Town of Pulaski. At that time the elements of shopping, food, beverages, and entertainment were lacking in the area, so one goal was to provide these things as well as introduce people to the benefits of locally sourced food. Recognizing that the vendors were micro-businesses which needed to be profitable, the Chamber chose Tuesday evening (an “off-night” as farmers’ markets go) to enable the participating vendors to continue with whatever larger Saturday venues in which they already participated and to make some additional funds in Pulaski. Since ensuring the profitability of the vendors was and continues to be a major priority, other things were required to entice people to come out to shop on Tuesday evenings. It was necessary to make THE MARKETPLACE a destination, “the place to be,” on Tuesday evenings. More and more people began to stop by, and the market gradually grew.
After the first year, the Chamber published a book featuring their vendors and were cited in Bon-Appetitt Villa Appalachia, helping to make the second year extremely profitable for the vendors, which had grown to over twenty participants. Year three brought some changing economic factors and by year four it became incumbent on the Chamber to rethink some of the strategies while continuing to attract the same demographics that appreciate fresh produce and locally sourced food.
In the spring of 2017, the layout was upgraded and the music was changed to a more acoustic style with a band only once a month. Musicians appearing this season include Magic Moments, Ron Ireland, Billy Steele, Pratt Brothers, Steve Smith, Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Audio Rain, and Virginia Wild. Whitebarrel Winery joined Westwind Winery to provide beverages along with continuing the craft beers from local distributor and supporter Virginia Eagle. Fresh lemonade is also available.
Town of Pulaski Mayor Nick Glenn came up with a new idea which has been very successfully incorporated into THE MARKETPLACE this season: sponsorships are being taken. In addition to advertising the sponsors and benefitting the local non-profit food banks, these sponsorships also help assure profitability to the vendors. Sponsors for this season include Downtown Exxon, MasTech Utility Service Group, Martin’s Pharmacy, Highland Ridge Health & Rehab, Pulaski YMCA, State Farm – Webb Donald, Colley Architect, and New River Resource Authority. A group is chosen by each week’s sponsor to receive the benefits of that week’s sponsorship. Those chosen this season include the Emergency Needs Task Force, Our Daily Bread, Heritage Cares, Farm 2 School, and the YMCA with the Farm to Table Dinner. The food banks obtain fresh local meats, vegetables, fruits, and breads to help feed the hungry in our community. A thank-you letter from just one of the beneficiaries stated, in part, “Thank you so much for your donation of food, of 102 pounds of fresh bread, produce, eggs and meat to the Emergency Needs Task Force of Pulaski County….Your support makes it possible for us to offer a ‘hand up’ to those in need. Your donation helped us feed many families in our community.”
Everything cooked and sold at THE MARKETPLACE this year is made from locally sourced ingredients. The sellers either used their own meats and vegetables or purchase their ingredients from other MARKETPLACE vendors. Hudson Beef, LLC – Old School Hamburgers are made with local farm raised beef and lettuce/onions from their farm. Johnny Ray’s uses pork purchased from Stump Ridge; the pork is then slow cooked at the Train Station all day and sold at THE MARKETPLACE; Southern BLTs are also available. P. J. Slaughter has cooked meat raised by the NRV Sheep and Goat Club. Local chefs P. J. Slaughter and Loren Hunter sold shredded pork tacos made from locally-sourced ingredients (meat from Stump Ridge and vegetables from Pear Tree); they sold out within one hour!!! Chef Paul Etzel from LewisGale Hospital – Pulaski and Food City also participate in the Culinary Showcase to show healthy dishes that can be prepared from the produce that is currently in season. Chef T from the Draper Mercantile was recently at THE MARKETPLACE purchasing ingredients for her culinary creations from Amy Tanner of Pear Tree Hill Farm.
The first Farm to Table Dinner with Chefs P. J. Slaughter and Loren Hunter was held at the July 18, 2017 MARKETPLACE to benefit the YMCA.
Virginia Tech Extension is often present to share recipes and/or distribute healthy samples, but always to promote healthy eating.
Young Entrepreneur Academy graduates Isabella of Forget Me Knot Designs and D.J. Roark of Greenhouse Down South have been selling at THE MARKETPLACE on some Tuesdays throughout this season.
Lizard Licks, a relatively new business in town, got started at THE MARKETPLACE.
A recent communication from another local business showed the way participation in THE MARKETPLACE has helped that business: “THE MARKETPLACE was the initial building block for the Blue Ridge Fudge Lady. I was able to use THE MARKETPLACE to build a strong local customer base as well as some outside customers who still order online! THE MARKETPLACE provided the Blue Ridge Fudge Lady one of the best stepping stones, which allowed us to grow into a local retail store! Many repeat customers coming in today were initially MARKETPLACE customers!”
Some of the other currently participating vendors include: Pulaski Grow (produce grown using aquaponics); Cobb Hill Alpaca (alpaca yarn, socks, honey, greens); Daisy’s Kitchen (baked goods); Mountain Mama’s (handmade personal care items); Kelley Family Farm (produce, jewelry, glass items); Debbie Grubb (baked goods); Stump Ridge Farms (pork products: sausage, uncured bacon, ribs, tenderloins, brats); JWC Farms (greens, tomatoes, herbs and other produce); Chestnut Ridge Berry Farm (blueberries, canned items, other produce); Pear Tree Hill Farms (our heaviest produce vendor: greens, squash, green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, and much more); Laughing Duck Farms (fresh ground horseradish, produce, eggs, herbs); Dave Knight (local honey); Haunted by Waters (handmade fishing lures); Oh Tutu (craft items), and Pycone Creamery (local ice cream).
Greg East, Town of Pulaski Town Councilman, recently commented, “The Chamber has year after year exceeded the Town’s expectations for the farmers’ market. This year is no different. They have put together a market that is great for the customer, the vendor, and most importantly, for our community. THE MARKETPLACE is the place to be on Tuesday evening!”
Peggy White, Executive Director of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, has this to say about this season of THE MARKETPLACE, “One of our favorite aspects of THE MARKETPLACE is that it has become a community gathering spot for the citizens of the Town of Pulaski and surrounding areas. The Chamber of Commerce cares about THE MARKETPLACE vendors as well as the customers who visit. The Chamber makes everyone feel welcome, actively includes the community (such as honoring World War II Veterans in early June), and supports local agriculture and artisans. New this season, the Chamber has initiated a MARKETPLACE sponsorship which is a win-win-win for all. THE MARKETPLACE sponsor donates money to the Chamber for the purchase of fresh produce, meats and baked goods from the vendors. The food items are then donated to area food banks. The sponsor receives acknowledgement, the vendor makes a sale, and nutritious foods are distributed to people within the community who may not have access to fresh foods. Throughout the years, the Chamber has consistently listened to vendor and customer feedback and has worked hard to set up THE MARKETPLACE to be the best market it can be for vendors, customers, musicians, and the Town. It is a community hub, and we have made lasting relationships from our involvement with THE MARKETPLACE.”
Many other events periodically contribute to the efforts to give THE MARKETPLACE a true sense of community. Some of these include Pulaski Proud, Cass Long & her Country Line Dancers, Salute to Schools to highlight all the Pulaski County School programs, Pulaski County Library with activities for kids and to promote the summer reading program, Healthcare night featuring various healthcare vendors in the area, the list could go on and on……………..
THE MARKETPLACE continues to evolve and become a family of sorts. After a worker with one of the food vendors suddenly and unexpectedly passed away earlier this season, there was a wreath placed in his memory and a sympathy card for everyone who wished to sign. The following note was
received from the gentleman’s family: “We wish to express our deepest gratitude to all the friends and neighbors of THE MARKETPLACE. We wish to thank you all for the consolation you gave us during such a trying time…..straight from my heart. Thank you.”
Ms. White, Chamber Executive Director, continues her reflections about THE MARKETPLACE: “Our focus on THE MARKETPLACE is based on the fact that ‘food’ is the single-most unifier on the planet. All cultures and religions have celebrations and events based around food. Food brings us all together. Pulaski County needs to embrace its rich agricultural heritage and we have tried to bring attention to that heritage with THE MARKETPLACE HERITAGE FARM SERIES written by Sheila D. Nelson and featuring a Pulaski County farm each month. Agriculture is still the number one industry in Virginia: hence, big business, small business, micro business.”
About the future of THE MARKETPLACE, she says: “This is our fifth season and we are still going strong and changing to meet the demands of the local and regional economies. As we look toward the future, I see THE MARKETPLACE continuing to be the heart of the community driven by the significant role that food plays in our lives.”
Danielle Hiatt, current President of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce,shares her feelings about THE MARKETPLACE: “THE MARKETPLACE is so important to our community because it gives us an opportunity to shop, eat, and spend locally. We have access to high quality foods and produce that are not only local, but picked for us at peak quality.
“It’s so exciting to see how THE MARKETPLACE brings the New River Valley together. The variety of events provide something for everyone. THE MARKETPLACE encourages health and wellness while supporting the arts and other aspects of life in Pulaski County.
“THE MARKETPLACE is made possible because of the Town of Pulaski. The Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce appreciates the Town’s commitment to provide our area with such a distinct place to visit and enjoy.
“We invite you all to join us and check us out online at Pulaskimarketplace.com for this season’s calendar of events.”
Hope to see YOU at THE MARKETPLACE!!!!