Last month the organization behind the popular South of the James Farmers Market, GrowRVA, began conducting visits to farms that participate in the market. The purpose is twofold: become better acquainted with the farmers and their farms, and verify that farmers actually produce the goods that they sell at the market.
Tim Murphy of GrowRVA said last year the organization began requiring that vendors at South of the James produce all goods they sell. “That provides a lot more accountability to have the actual person be there who produced the products.” Murphy said it wasn’t just attendees of the market who asked for the requirement. “A lot of the farmers…felt like that is the way it should be.”
One of those farmers is Ali Moussalli of Frog Bottom Farm in Pamplin, VA. He said the visits are a good thing. “There are always questions about whether the produce is grown by the person vending it.” He said that all farmers market should have inspections. “Otherwise people will sell things they don’t grow.”
In June, Murphy and GrowRVA founder Karen Atkinson spent about an hour at Frog Bottom talking with Moussalli about his farm. The conversation focused on the history of Frog Bottom Farm, its business operations, and individual crops. Moussalli described the discussions as “personable and friendly.”
Murphy distinguished the visits as “information gathering” sessions and not inspections. “We’re familiarizing ourselves with how things are done [on each farm].” Murphy estimated that GrowRVA has visited 10 farms to date, with an additional 25 planned in the coming weeks (they average about three visits per week). He said that spring and summer visits are particularly important as GrowRVA can see (and verify) the crops that each farm produces.
A benefit to the visits is that it allows GrowRVA to become better acquainted with the farmers themselves. The visits, said Murphy, are a “good way to spend an hour or two talking to someone…to see where they live and how they spend the rest of the week [outside of the market].” These visits have shown Murphy and GrowRVA just how determined and devoted area farmers are.
“We just want to farm for a living and keep our heads above water,” said Moussalli. He and his wife had experience farming in Northern Virginia, which he said was more lucrative than operating in Richmond. “The market for local vegetables is not as strong down here as it is in D.C.” While the population in Central Virginia can’t match the numbers of the D.C. area, Moussailli said that people who attend the South of the James Farmers Market are nevertheless supportive. “The customers at the markets are great. They’re even a bit grateful.”