The Downtown Hattiesburg Farmers Market honored The University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Social Work for its role in founding the market, with a plaque presented during Earth Day celebrations held April 24 at Town Square Park.
Dr. Tim Rehner, director of the School of Social Work, and Dr. Mark Klinedinst, emeritus professor of economics, were instrumental in the formation of the farmers market.
The initial idea for the market originated with after-school programming at the Family Network Partnership (FNP). The partnership is a School of Social Work affiliated, non-traditional community based juvenile delinquency prevention program. At the FNP teen center, children established community gardens in vacant lots. “We thought the children could earn some money if they had a way to sell the produce,” said Rehner. “The idea for the FNP kids to have a produce stand is what started the market.”
“One of the first stops I made in trying to establish a market was to visit with Dr. Klinedinst. He is still working with the farmers market and has a long-term relationship with the Indian Springs Farmers Association,” said Rehner. “The idea of starting a farmers market for the kids at FNP was going to require ‘real’ farmers. Dr. Klinedinst was the link to the real farmers and was essential in getting the market started.”
In 2003, Rehner and Klinedinst organized a meeting with the Indian Springs Farmers Association and interested individuals. From these meetings, the farmers market took root. Rehner ensured the idea came to life by continuing to facilitate meetings and assist with planning efforts. “This joint effort of farmers, USM, the city of Hattiesburg and local merchants has been the key to the market’s success,” said Klinedinst.
Through their Youth Action Council, the children of the FNP determined they would receive 60 percent of proceeds and 40 percent would be used for garden maintenance. “Produce that did not sell was distributed to people in the community, including the children and their families,” said Laurie Risher, program director of FNP. “Produce was also used in cooking classes at the center.”
“While meeting a need in the community, program participants and USM students gained valuable knowledge and experience from planting, growing, harvesting to selling produce at the farmers market. An added bonus was the bonds that were formed across the university and community,” said Risher.
The market also helped start other farmers markets in east Hattiesburg, Southern Miss and Laurel. “The music, fresh food, locally grown produce and friendly community atmosphere help make Downtown Hattiesburg a more vibrant setting for residents and businesses,” Klinedinst said.
For more information about the Downtown Hattiesburg Famers Market, visit http://www.hattiesburgfarmersmarket.com/ or on Facebook, “Downtown Hattiesburg Farmers Market.” To learn more about the Southern Miss School of Social Work, visit www.usm.edu/social-work