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Pilot program integrates art into Kentucky farmers markets

A new pilot project will integrate work from local artists into farmers markets with the goal of increasing sales for all vendors.

Farmers markets are an important cog in the machine of Kentucky’s agribusiness. With an exciting array of fruits, vegetables and other Kentucky agricultural products, farmers markets often are quite colorful. And now, a $51,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to the Kentucky Arts Council will help add even more color to these venues.

The arts council will use the grant to execute a yearlong pilot project in Ohio and Owsley counties to integrate the arts into farmers markets. The goals of this project are to provide new markets for artists to sell their work; increase sales for all vendors at the two farmers markets; introduce new products that will draw more customers; build relationships in the two counties between residents, local farmers and artists; provide opportunities for residents to learn about the working lives of farmers and artists; develop appreciation for small local businesses; and increase local and regional tourism. At the end of the project, the arts council will produce a guide for Kentucky communities to implement similar programs at their local farmers markets.

There are farmers markets in 106 Kentucky counties, representing 2,500 vendors, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture website.

John Stofer, a principal in Ohio County Schools and a farmer in the Beaver Dam community, said he is looking forward to seeing the collaboration between Ohio County’s farmers and artists.

“Ohio County is rich not only in farmers but also in artists. There’s a lot of local community pride,” Stofer said. “This grant will allow us to promote both as a joint effort to reach a larger population. The grant is a great opportunity to work together with our local artists and with the Kentucky Arts Council to promote local talent and local produce as a community wide effort.”

Glenn Baker, community education director for Owsley County Schools and vice president of the Owsley County Arts Council, said the partnership will provide Owsley County artists something they have not had before – a common forum in which to sell their work.

“Artists here do things independently. They don’t have a place to come together and show what they create,” Baker said. “We hope this helps with that.”

Bringing together farmers and artists in Owsley County for a project that could inject more money into the local economy and drive tourism is an effort that could produce many positive outcomes.

“For the community, I’m hoping it’s an economic boost,” Baker said. “Owsley is one of poorest counties in the state and nation. We had a population of 4,755 in 2010 and it’s currently estimated at 4,400, a 7.2 percent decrease.”

The scope of the arts council’s work includes:

• Gathering local artists, agricultural producers and community members interested in identifying a need or area of improvement at the local farmers’ market that can be addressed through artistic means and collaboration.

• Creating opportunities for local and regional artists to sell work alongside producers at the farmers’ market.

• Producing a culminating event in 2017 during a regularly scheduled farmers’ market where the project team will provide an opportunity for the public to experience firsthand the results of the endeavor.

The grant also supports a series of training sessions in Owsley and Ohio counties. Training topics will promote cooperation between the art and agriculture communities and may include business skills development, branding, packaging and product development, recruiting additional participants to sell at the market, creating promotional materials and advertising for the market, creating an online presence or social media site for the market, or creating programming to draw more consumers to the market.

“I think the trainings will be helpful. The big thing, besides production obviously, is marketing. We know vendors with logos advertising their products, and it makes their products more appealing to customers, draws them to their booths and increases sales. We encourage our vendors to do that. I think it will benefit new vendors greatly to interact with artists and develop an understanding of how to market their product.”

The arts council will be documenting this project during the next year, and updating the public on its progress on social media.

Lori Meadows is executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.