TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tuscaloosa is losing one of its oldest farmers markets at the end of this season.
Thursday will be the last day for Homegrown Alabama, a University of Alabama student-led market held on the lawn at Canterbury Chapel Episcopal Church for the last 11 years.
Homegrown Alabama was started in 2006 on the UA campus and soon moved to the church property. The program’s goal was to educate students about the value of local produce, as well as to foster partnerships between local farmers and the university.
The market was unlike any in Tuscaloosa at the time, with its afternoon hours and inclusion of arts and crafts vendors and local musicians.
Participation has dwindled in recent years, the organizers said, especially since the Tuscaloosa River Market opened in 2013.
“Our goal was to bring good, whole food to the Tuscaloosa community. It was doing very well, the city saw how well, and started the River Market,” said Reid Mallette, a chemical engineering student at UA who manages the market with two other seniors. “I love the River Market, it’s flourishing. It took away a lot of our business, and that’s OK. I feel like we’ve completed the mission of the market.”
Most of the vendors also sell their goods at the Tuscaloosa River Market or the Northport Farmers Market, she said.
“Once you lose customers, you lose vendors,” she said. “Then when you have less vendors, you’re going to get even less customers.”
Mallette, Mary Clay Kline and Sarah Silaski have run the market for a few years by themselves. That means they work with the vendors, set up tables and tents and run the market for three hours each Thursday during market season.
With no volunteers, it was tough to get everything done while still handling their school responsibilities. Some volunteers signed up to help at the beginning of the season but weren’t able to fit it into their schedules.
Running the market doesn’t offer any pay or class credit, and no one has said they’re willing to take it on once the three managers graduate.
“It’s literally a labor of love. It’s basically like running a small business or nonprofit,” Mallette said. “It’s just hard to get people involved and convince them why it’s worth it.”
Homegrown Alabama’s faculty adviser Alvin Niuh will keep the market’s bank account open and keep the organization active through UA in case anyone wants to rejuvenate the program at some point, Mallette said.
Canterbury Chapel provides pantry staples to people in need every Tuesday, and provides vouchers those people can use at the Thursday market. Church staff is working to make those vouchers available for use at Tuscaloosa River Market, she said.
The last event Thursday will feature a big sheet cake and casseroles made by the vendors.
“I think there will be a gap in Tuscaloosa, but the River Market is definitely equipped to handle it,” Mallette said. “It’s sad it’s ending, but I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com