By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
On a hot Friday afternoon, farmer Gussy Daniels sat under the shade of an oak tree with his red pickup truck, waiting.
With a small table of cantaloupes, peppers and tomatoes and a flatbed full of watermelons, Daniels represents the last of the regular vendors at the site of the Killeen Farmers' Market, which was once bustling with activity every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
Daniels said it hasn't always been this way.
"I am the Killeen Farmers' Market on this side of town," Daniels said Friday. "At one time, we would have five or six vendors. Some of them would come from San Antonio or Dallas and bring it here for resale. We would have 500 to 600 customers per day."
Beverly Zendt, Killeen downtown project manager, said she has become a main point of contact for helping to revitalize the Killeen Farmers' Market so that it can once again be a regular source for residents seeking fresh produce.
"This is a discovery I've just made in the past week or two," said Zendt, standing with Daniels across the railroad tracks from the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. "First, I didn't think we had any vendors. I went through a list of vendors who go to the Temple market, and I finally came across somebody who comes here, and it was Mr. Daniels."
Zendt said she gets as many as five or six calls every week from Killeen residents anxious to get better access to fresh produce in the area. But right now, the pickings are slim.
Zendt said part of the reason is that there is really no hierarchy of management with the Killeen market, and therefore, no coordination.
Such is not the case in Belton on Saturdays, as one of the area's oldest, and most established, farmers' market is bustling with people every week.
Mary Coppin has served as market manager for the past six years for the Belton market and has been affiliated with it for more than 20 years.
She said she doesn't know why Killeen doesn't have a stable market, since it certainly has the demand, she said.
"I don't have a clue," Coppin said. "I wish I had the answer to that. I just don't know. The convenience probably has a lot to do with it."
Coppin said the lack of vendors is likely the root cause, since Temple and Belton are far more established locations. She said people come from Killeen and Copperas Cove to shop in Belton and Temple, perhaps because they can count on the vendors being there every week.
Larry Joe Harmon lives near Little River and has been a vendor in Belton for about eight years. He said he's never even been to Killeen's market, and was a bit surprised to hear the city had one.
While he expressed interest in going to Killeen, he said his small operation serves a regular clientele in Belton, and he sells out his stock there. There's no real need to go anywhere else, he said.
"It goes back to the tradition," Harmon said. "I don't need to go to Killeen. I know everybody I sell to, it's kind of like a family deal. I take pride in what I do. I've got regular customers. I don't waste nothing. I could not furnish two markets."
He added that the tradition of the old square in Belton leaves many people going back to where they know they can get their produce, and have been for nearly a century.
In Killeen, Daniels' lone operation doesn't conform with the hours posted on the small, wooden sign. He's often gone long before the posted hours of operation, and sometimes arrives earlier. But he said he has to get where he can sell his produce.
Not enough advertising
Another part of the reason lies in advertising for Killeen, or lack thereof. Coppin said there is some advertising that goes on throughout the year for Temple and Belton, but frankly, the regulars simply spread it by word of mouth.
Either way, she said it's something that does improve the quality of life within a town, she said.
"It really brings something to the city, having that fresh produce," Coppin said. "People were really coming during the tomato scare. People seem to be starving for fresh fruits and vegetables. It's really a neat place to be associated with."
Contact Justin Cox at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568.