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May 07, 2018 | Carol E. Barnwell

Farmers, Bakers, Candle Stick Makers

When is a farmer’s market more than tomatoes, eggs and local artisans? When relationships, a healthy community and incubating entrepreneurs are part of the initial vision. That’s what’s happening at Peach Street Farmer’s Market in the small town of Angleton thanks to the Episcopal Church.

“Part of our plan from day one was to be a business incubator as part of the mission of the farmer’s market,” said the Rev. Travis Smith, rector of Holy Comforter, Angleton. “We wanted to create something that benefited the whole of the community.”

And, as luck—or the Holy Spirit—would have it, “the divine tumblers aligned,” Ellen Eby said. Eby, market manager and a member of Holy Comforter since 1984, brought the market to fruition with the help of many others. She left no stone unturned in the planning, and credits Smith's gift of gathering the right people at the right time with the right skills. “He has a gentle way of encouraging and helping people grow,” Eby said, adding that tending to the community has been part of the church’s DNA.

“We have a history of great clergy leadership,” Eby said. A barbeque and blue grass festival begun years ago led to a community fish fry and the hospitality and community orientation of the church just seems to keep growing. The farmer’s market is just the latest offering.

Launched in August, 2017, the market’s original 15 vendors has tripled and because of Eby’s work with the Brazos College Small Business Development Center, all of the vendors are eligible for services to help with business plans, book keeping and management.

When the idea for a farmer’s market first came up, Eby said it was only a matter of days before the church had a business plan and began making community presentations. They met with the City Council, which was very supportive, to the extent that they rezoned the property as part of downtown so the streets could be blocked off. A new member of the church with extensive experience in non-profits helped set up the bylaws, the senior warden, an accountant, did the filings with IRS and set up the 5013c status.

“It was important that the farmer’s market not be one more program,” Eby said. “We wanted to provide a place where the community could connect with neighbors and people could grow their businesses.”

Bekka Laurent grew up on Peach Street and was an early vendor at the Farmer’s Market. Not entirely clear on her business plan to put her knowledge of herbs to work, she used the market to experiment with products and clarify her vision for Bekka’s Planet. “The Peach Street Farmer’s Market is the one constant that ‘my people’ and I can count on,” Laurent said.  

The first market opened with a 1K fun run. They hoped to have 25 people and 10 vendors. Existing networks among area farmers and artisans spread the word and they opened with 15 vendors and 150 runners. Angleton’s Mayor Jason Perez made tortillas and helped serve breakfast tacos.

Different events have added interest to the growing market, which has an average attendance of 300. They have had a health fair and a monarch butterfly day with special offerings on Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Live music and a safe place for children to play round out the campus offerings on Saturday morning when streets around the church are closed and vendors set up their tents. Partnerships include local breweries

Because the market opened just two weeks before Harvey, the church became an even more important nexus for donations and supplies. A local egg vendor donated dozens of eggs for the market’s breakfast offering in the days that followed Harvey.

“We created many tender friendships and sacred bond’s,” Smith said of those early days.

Laurent agrees. “The camaraderie is something I’ve never witnessed before at a market or show,” she said, adding that people seem to help one another and cheer one another on. “It’s like a family get together.” Both Laurent’s children, 15 and 17, are involved in her business startup as part of the opportunity for learning that the market offers, she said.

Jeff Barriault of Jeff's Aquaponics and Farm has seen farming become more of a full-time job than it was previously. "The market has definitely expanded our opportunities and allowed our small farm to grow," Barriault said, adding, "Along with the new friends we've made with several vendors, the weekly fellowship with customers has been amazing." 

While she has participated in other venues, Danielle Morgan has never pushed her home-baked goods as a real source of income before, but the medical data programmer said Peach Street Farmer's Market has "allowed our family to spend more time together, boosted our income and inspired us to go sell at other markets. It's also helped us feel connected with the community even though we only just moved here."

What changes has the farmer’s market brought to the congregation? “We are able to see the bigger picture, people are dreaming more,” Smith said. “The small things are staying small.”

Plans include the addition of food trucks and eventually a bricks and mortar location to help empower local people, help them learn best business practices and grow in their business skills while contributing to the health of the overall community.

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