Food safety is more than food for thought for Hernando Farmers Market planners: It's the subject next week of training that's required for first-time market food vendors to participate, to ensure a good gastronomic impact on market-goers.
"We really feel strongly when it comes to food quality and safety," said market organizer Gia Matheny, Hernando Community Development Director. "Not all markets require food safety classes, but the Hernando Farmers Market is a Mississippi Certified Market, and as such, completion of an instruction program is required to be a vendor selling food products at our market."
The annual market runs 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from April 22 to Oct. 28 around the DeSoto County Courthouse square. The 2017 Hernando Farmers Market vendor meeting, including Food Safety Training and Acidified Foods Training presented by Mississippi State University Extension staff, is slated for Tuesday, March 21 at the Gale Center at 2601 Elm St. west of the courthouse square.
The session starts at 9 a.m., with the instruction programs beginning at 11 a.m. in the Gale meeting rooms. The Food Safety class is free; there's a $15 fee for the Acidified Foods course. To sign up for a class, contact Dr. Joy Anderson, Mississippi State University Extension Agent/County Coordinator at the DeSoto Extension office at 662-469-8480 by Monday, March 20.
The Food Safety course is a general one for those bringing produce, dairy or other fresh products.
The Acidified Foods training is aimed at "cottage food" vendors, those offering products such as pickles or salsas, jams and jellies, "anything where acid is added, to make it safe to eat," said Anderson. "People who are participating in other markets can take this course, and bring samples of their products and we can test to see if they're at the proper pH level for acidity or alkeline."
(The pH range runs from 0 to 14, with 7.0 neutral; levels below 7.0 are considered acidic; anything above is alkeline. A healthy blood pH has acid/alkeline in almost equal balance.)
"Right now, there's a waiting list for cottage food and craft vendors at the Hernando market, but space is available for our fresh or 'farm to fork' vendors," said Anderson.
Also at the March 21 gathering, said Anderson, "we'll distribute the 2017 vendor application, review the token system and AARP Fresh Savings program, and go over new offerings at the market."
Matheny and representatives of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce will discuss the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) for seniors and the Women Infants Children (WIC) nutrition program for low to moderate-income pregnant women, recently delivered women, breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk. Both FNMP and WIC are supplemental food programs that promote consumption of fresh, healthy products.
Matheny said persons can visit the WIC office at 470 Scott Street in Tate County to determine WIC eligibility and pick up vouchers redeemable for appropriate products.
The AARP Fresh Savings program has a "double bucks" benefit for those using a SNAP/EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefits Transfer) card, said Matheny. "If someone with the card spends $20 at the market, they get $40 in tokens, meaning an extra $20 for SNAP-eligible items and $20 more for fruits and vegetables. It's a lot."
"We're really excited with this year's market," said Matheny. "We hope to have more food-preparation demonstrations this year." Also, the first Saturday of each month will be "Senior Saturday" with senior-friendly activities such as fitness classes, music and line dancing.
For more Hernando Farmers Market information, to volunteer to help out, or to arrange free transportation to the market for seniors, contact Gia Matheny at 662-429-9092. For more information on Food Safety, Acidified Foods or other Extension training programs or activities, contact Dr. Joy Anderson at 662-469-8480, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the office at the USDA Service Center at 3260 U.S. 51 South in Hernando.
Henry Bailey is Contributing Writer and Copy Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He can be contacted at email@example.com and at 662-429-6397, Ext. 241.