By Andrew D. Brosig

Harker Heights Herald

SALADO - In ever-increasing numbers, food shoppers are looking for local, fresh alternatives when they're on the hunt for vegetables.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Marketing Service, the number of farmers markets in the country increased from 1,755 in 1994, the first year statistics were kept, to more than 6,130 this year. Add to that number one more with the recent opening earlier this month of Adelea's Farmers Market at Adelea's on Main.

The market is the brainchild of Adelea's owners, Jennifer and Kelly Angell. Long-time proponents of using the freshest ingredients possible in their menu, the two chefs decided to share their passion for fresh food with their neighbors, Jennifer Angell said.

"We've always been big supporters of the Austin Farmers Market," she said. "We definitely needed one here. We thought, why not bring a farmers' market to Salado."

In his July Think Texas newsletter, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples sang the praises of community farmers markets.

"According to USDA, about 60 percent of farmers market customers say one of the things they value most about the venue is supporting local agriculture," Staples wrote in July. "Farmers markets also help small growers survive.

"Farmers often find they make lasting connections at the markets," he said. "Producers tell me they see many of the same faces each week, so it becomes more than just a business, it becomes a community."

For Jeff Oaks, owner with his family of Belton-based Green Egg Farm, it's the easiest way to get their product to customers. It's more effective than going door-to-door, he said.

"For us, it's a really good way to connect with our customers," Oaks said. "People who come to markets like this understand what fresh food is."

The rules of the farmers market are simple, Angell said. Everything sold here must be grown or made within 100 miles of Salado. Preference is given to producers who follow sustainable or organic growing practices. And the person selling must be the person who raised, grew or produced the product, unless they are selling for a neighbor or friend, which must be disclosed to potential buyers before a sale, she said.

"We've had so much support from our local community, we're just thrilled," Angell said. "We speak to people about getting back to basics. People want to know where their food comes from."

Adelea's Farmers' Market is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., through the end of October. Depending on the response - which has so far been positive, Angell said - the market will reopen next spring for a longer season.

Angell would like to see more prepared goods, locally produced breads, for example. And there's always room for more fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as speciality meats and other items produced close to home.

"We couldn't be more happy with the way it turned out," Angell said. "My generation has never known a time when there was not a grocery store. The little kids here are getting a chance to meet the farmers, see how it should be."

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