Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks presented a check for the establishment of the Tuskegee-Macon County Comprehensive Farmers’ Market to Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, president of Tuskegee University, on March 24.The $100,000 grant will be matched with in-kind gifts from Tuskegee University, its College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences, the Macon County Cooperative Extension System, the Macon County Commission, and the City of Tuskegee. The market will provide small farmers and their families with a year-round venue for marketing and selling their products.”This is what Tuskegee’s mission–the work of Dr. Booker T. Washington and Dr. George Washington Carver–is all about,” Payton said. “It is about helping the underserved to be properly served in ways that enable them to stand on their feet and to act with dignity.”It’s a mission that has moved into the 21st Century, Payton said, adding that Tuskegee has been engaged in a long process of trying to help black farmers, particularly, but others as well in the Black Belt counties.”I look forward to working with Tuskegee as it supports small farmers in Alabama,” Sparks said. “It’s just an honor for me to be here today to give you a check to help the farming community near Tuskegee University.”The logistics of the farmers’ market are still a work in progress, as the staff of Tuskegee University’s College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences team with those in Tuskegee’s Continuing Education and Cooperative Extension Program to seek input from farmers and others in the agricultural community.The general plan calls for a year-round facility in Tuskegee that includes educational and meeting facilities and areas where farming families can sell and market crafts. The market also will provide a place where farmers may prepare, grade, package, process, market, sell and transport their crops to state and national markets. Education and training also will be provided to farmers and citizens of Macon County.Payton sees the farmers’ market as a community effort, igniting growth that will help encourage farmers to believe there is a piece of the future out there for them.Sparks said he plans to visit the farmers market when it is completed. “We are very much committed to working with Tuskegee, one of our land-grant universities,” Sparks added. “We have to save the family farms of Alabama. They are the backbone of this state. They are valuable to this state. We can’t lose them.”After discussions with College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences Dean Walter Hill and other deans at land-grant institutions, Sparks says he and his staff are focusing even more on rural economic development in Alabama.”Our department will be very active in rural economic development in the state, which goes hand in hand with making sure small farmers survive,” he said. Also attending the March 24 presentation at Tuskegee University were Tuskegee University Board Trustee Willie Kirk, Associate Provost and Director of Continuing Education and Cooperative Extension Velma Blackwell, Miles Robinson of Tuskegee University’s Small Farm Center, Scott Absher and George M. Paris of the Department of Agriculture and Industries, Macon County Commissioner Jesse Upshaw, Michael Sims of the Macon County Farmers’ Association, Arnetta D. White of the Tuskegee mayor’s office, and Macon County Cooperative Extension Agent Walter Baldwin.For more information on Tuskegee University’s Small Farm Center, call Miles Robinson at (334) 724-4428.
Grant Helps Open Farmers Market In Macon County