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A farmers market goes to the state fair

Sixth-grader turns her passion into a winning social studies project

If only all farmers market customers were this enthusiastic. And erudite.

Tucker Middle School sixth-grader Marley Bridges is such a fan of her local farmers market that she created a social studies fair project about it. After winning her school fair and advancing through the DeKalb County and East Metro regional fairs, on Saturday Marley is taking her project to the Georgia Social Studies Fair at Clayton State University.

Her topic: What Are the Economic Effects of Farmers Markets in Georgia?

Marley learned that the Tucker Farmers Market has a significant economic impact on the community. “It’s great for business,” she says. “It brings more customers, it brings more money” to downtown merchants.

She knows because she asked. After researching the impact of farms and farmers markets on Georgia’s overall economy, Marley created distinct surveys for Tucker Farmers Market vendors, customers and area merchants, which she handed out on Thursdays at the market. She asked customers how often they came and how many vendors they bought from. She asked vendors how much of their total business is done at the farmers market, and whether they buy from other vendors. And she asked area merchants whether they saw a change in business on market days. Then she tallied up all the answers in Excel.

Her results: “Ninety-two percent of the merchants said the farmers market has a positive impact on their business,” Marley says. “Most of the customers actually go to other Tucker stores on the day of the farmers market.”

Market manager Nancy Qarmout was happy to hear it. “I was definitely glad to get that feedback,” she says. “It’s hard to have a farmers market if the community doesn’t want it.”

Marley's right, of course. A 2010 study commissioned by Georgia Organics found that if each of Georgia's 3.7 million households spent just $10 per week on locally grown products, they would pump $1.9 billion into the state’s economy. And farmers markets provide more than a direct retail sales outlet for farmers; they also attract customers to town centers, generating foot traffic and new interest in existing businesses.

Qarmout, who met Marley and her family after the youngster began volunteering at the Dillwood Farms booth, said she was inspired by the effort that Marley put into her project. She was so impressed, in fact, that when Marley expressed an interest in attending Georgia Organic’s Farm to School Summit last month in Atlanta, Qarmout took Marley and her mom, Sarah, to the daylong conference. The three sat in on talks, took notes, and starting kicking around ideas for a farm to school project they could start in Tucker.

But for now, Marley is focused on this Saturday’s state fair. “She's very, very excited and we're so very proud of her,” says Sarah Bridges.

Qarmout is too. “I was very impressed and proud that a local Tucker student was encouraged and motivated by the Tucker Farmers Market,” she says. “Marley seems genuinely interested in the deeper elements at the farmers market—she wants to meet the farmers, learn their stories, wants to visit all the farms, and she tries to wrap her brain around all the economic aspects and how she can help, and she encourages her friends [to come to market] too. I think she definitely stands out.”