DENHAM SPRINGS — Ray Gill and his late brother Charles had a dream about a dozen years ago. The two, who grew up on a farm near Holden, frequently talked about starting a farmers market where area farmers and craftsmen could sell their products directly to the public.
That dream ultimately became a reality, and the market they founded has not only survived but has thrived. Gill, as he does almost every Saturday morning, was at the Livingston Parish Farmers Market, located on busy Florida Boulevard in Denham Springs, on Saturday happily leading the 10th anniversary celebration of the market’s founding.
Gill said getting the market started was a challenge, and he and his brother just couldn’t quite get their project off the ground. He said that in late 2005, after some persuasion, he and Charles convinced a number of farmers to help them, and the fledgling project was finally launched.
In March 2006 the first Livingston Parish Farmers’ Market opened for business in a parking lot across from the Denham Springs Municipal Building. Gill said that while they were grateful for the space offered by the Denham Springs City Council, visibility was lacking so they moved the market to its present location in front of the New Covenant Church in October 2006, and that location, he said, has been ideal.
“We’ve been here 10 years now, and people know about the Farmers Market. Lots of our customers keep coming back every week. I don’t know all their names, but I know their faces. We’ve been blessed that our market has become a success,” Gill said.
Many of the vendors have also been involved in the market for much of the life of the project and the vendors are at the heart of the market’s success, Gill said.
“Over the years, the vendors have changed … for example, we’ve lost some farmers who have died and some who are ill and don’t farm anymore, but we draw about a dozen booths every week,” Gill said. “We attract the most booths in October, November and December when people come here for the crafts that are given as Christmas gifts. But no matter the number of booths, we are here every Saturday, from 7 a.m. until noon like we’ve been for the past 10 years.”
Gill said he checks with vendors periodically on how their products are selling and most of them are doing well. He said that some vendors have good products, but the products just don’t have a lot of public appeal. “I tell them, ‘If you have a good product at a good price, your goods will sell,’” he said.
The Livingston Parish Farmers Market is not all about farm produce. The booths offer shoppers a wide variety of products including art pieces, clothing, specialty cosmetics, baked goods and freshly cooked food. Barbecue right off the pit was on sale at the Saturday market session. Another vendor offered samples of boudin, cracklings, sausage and homemade jerky. A variety of honey products were on sale.
The only requirement for reserving a booth is that the product sold must be produced, preferably locally, by the vendor, Gill said. Vendors fill out an application form that must be approved by the market’s seven-member board of directors. Vendors pay $20 for their booth space and the funds earned by the market board is used to cover operating expenses. Gill said the board does make donations to the New Covenant Church.
“The church has been good to us … they let us use this space for free so we help them out from time to time,” he added.
Janice Landry, of Springfield, who manned a booth selling vegetables and canned jams and jellies, said she comes to the market every week. “Business is usually good, depending on the weather, but we get the chance to sell our vegetables here, and it’s a good opportunity,” she said.
She produces a variety of vegetables on her farm, but said strawberries are her main crop.
Debbie Rynders, of Denham Springs, was busy selling decorative plants she cultivates herself. She had an array of plants for sale at the market. She said she propagates most of the plants she sells but she also gets plants from local growers to sell in her stall. One of her customers, Marsha Jehegan, of Denham Springs, said she comes to the market regularly and enjoys buying plants, vegetables and other items at the market.
“I just bought some things for my grandson … some custom-made bedding items that are special and unique … something you will only find at a market like this,” Jehegan said.
Jenny Goynes, of Holden, has been selling her one-of-a-kind paintings at the market for the past six years. “My mother was a painter, and I guess I learned from her. I started painting on wood patterns that I cut out myself and customers at the market seem to like my work.
“I do well selling my paintings,” she said. Her colorful creations, painted on cypress boards, depict Louisiana scenes.
Gill, who retired as a Baton Rouge firefighter after a 33-year career, said the market is important for the vendors who come each week.
“Our whole purpose is to see that people sell their products. By having this market, they have a place to make a profit off of what they produce,” Gill said.
“I think it’s a great thing for the sellers and buyers … we have a good thing going here,” he said. “We’ve had a successful run for the past 10 years and we look forward to next 10.”