More than half a decade ago, West Homewood Farmers Market was barely an idea in the minds of a small group at Shades Valley Community Church. But there was a focused vision: "What is good" -- meaning that Christians need to promote the things that God deemed good in Scripture. With this in mind, the group looked for ways to fulfill that vision through community-building projects. A farmers market with fresh produce would be an excellent resource for the neighborhood, they decided – as well as a way to support farmers.
Consider the vision fulfilled: West Homewood Farmers Market was recently voted the best farmers market in Central Alabama by AL.com readers, besting heavyweights such as Pepper Place and Alabama Farmers Market on Finley Avenue.
How did that happen? Let's back up just a bit.
During the first four seasons since opening in 2011, the market, held in the church's parking lot, was only open on Saturday mornings. But a couple of hundred people showed up each week, according to volunteer Kenyon Ross. (West Homewood consists of about 1,000 households.) They showed up rain or shine; if the weather was iffy, the vendors moved into the church.
This year, the group decided to mix it up a bit. They hired a manager to help organize and expand the market, which up until that time had been staffed only by volunteers.
Now, the market is also open on some Tuesday afternoons – every week in June and July, and once a month in August, September and October. There are four food trucks; 35 primarily Alabama-based vendors (with offerings from fresh produce to arts and crafts; and activities for kids.
There's also live entertainment. (Firekid, an up-and-coming project by Greenhill native Dillon Hodges, is slated to perform at September's market.)
RELATED: Firekid signs with Atlantic Records, preps debut LP With the expansion came more people. The market now regularly hosts around 400-600 people, according to Ross, who adds that it has definitely helped unite the neighborhood. "People have responded well," he says. "You come and see people eating dinner together and they don't know each other."
"Our society puts fences around their houses," he continues. "Now they know each other."
He gives plenty of examples, but one stands out:
"There's a senior citizen who comes to our market using her walker. She walks the two blocks (to the market.) She's a spitfire. ... She asked if she could write stories about the market. So we have these handwritten stories about the market."
The church's role
Ross is quick to say that Shades Valley Community Church doesn't promote itself at the market. A quick search of the market's website and Facebook seems to verify that – there are just a few mentions of the church on the website and even fewer on the market's active social media platforms.
But that doesn't mean that people haven't noticed the work the church is doing. "Sometimes the city will tell us about an opportunity to help others," says Ross. It may be repairing someone's broken pipes. Or overgrown shrubbery. Whatever the need, the city calls the church, and the church responds.