Fresh & Local
The Market Master
Column #2, Published Sept 30th, 2011
This is a weekly column about locally grown food. Last week I talked about how much of our food travels long distances to get to us from huge mega-farms in places like California, Florida and Mexico. But that economic model is now changing, and I touched on some of the reasons why. There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads.
If locally grown food is a revolution, then the Culpeper epicenter would undoubtedly be the Culpeper Farmers’ Market. The Farmers’ Market has been around for close to 30 years. It’s been in its current location at the corner of Davis and Commerce Streets for at least 20 years. Back then, that end of Davis Street was a rough part of town. There were not many vendors, and there were not a lot of customers. Locally grown food was not a big draw.
Today, all that has changed. Somewhere along the way, Culpeper Renaissance (the downtown merchant’s association) took over running the Farmers’ Market. Within the last four years, the market has grown to point that Culpeper Renaissance decided to hire a manager for it. His name is Tom Hennaman and he is known as the Market Master.
I wanted to get Tom’s take on locally grown food and the Farmers’ market. But before I could talk to him, I had to catch up with him. My first attempt was on a Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Market. I thought maybe he would have a few spare minutes. I should have known better. With 40 vendors, he is in constant motion.
When I made my next attempt, Tom was serving lunches at Manna Ministry’s free lunch program at the Presbyterian Church. I realized that trying to catch Tom when he wasn’t busy was going to be tough. The hardest part of interviewing Tom Hennaman is getting him to sit still for 15 minutes.
When we did finally talk, I told him that being Market Master made him an important person in the locally grown food revolution.
“You don’t agree?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Obviously, being an influential locally grown foodie is not the way he thinks of himself.
“OK, then. Why did you take this position?”
“I was a manager in my career, and I’ve always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy. I normally don’t plan things in detail. A friend told me that Culpeper Renaissance was looking for a Market Master, and I thought to myself, ‘I can do this.’ It was the managerial mechanics of the position that attracted me.”
To Tom’s way of thinking, it’s not about the food, but about organizing the people who grow and sell the food.
His first year was the most challenging. Farmers’ markets are supposed to be reserved for local farmers who grow their own food. But the words “local” and “grow their own” are too vague to be useful. So Tom added some definitions to the vendor agreements. “Local” now means within 75 miles of Culpeper, and 80% of what a vendor sells must be grown by the vendor. The other 20% can be from another source as long as it was grown within 75 miles of Culpeper.
How much longer is Tom going to remain Market Master? “I’ll probably do this at least a couple more years.” His goals are to continue to grow the number of vendors. The lot with the 40 current vendors is full. Tom would like to close a block of Commerce Street on Saturday mornings. “If the town would let us do that, I think we could fit another 15 vendors in.”
The next time you are at the Culpeper Farmers’ Market, be sure say hello to Tom. But first, you’ll have to catch up with him.