Smithfield Farmers Market now certified gold

Published 9:25 am Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Smithfield Farmers Market is the first of hundreds across the state to literally achieve the gold standard under a new certification process the Virginia Farmers Market Association launched last year.

Markets can achieve three levels of certification – bronze, silver and gold – under the Virginia Certified Farmers Market Program. Each market is scored across categories including public safety, food safety and origin, market visibility, and the continuing education of its market manager. Smithfield’s market received its gold certification Jan. 30.

“I am honored to say that Smithfield Farmers Market is the first Virginia Certified Farmers Market, especially at the gold level,” said Smithfield Market Manager Sabrina Dooley.

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The certification program, Dooley said, is intended to promote best practices and set benchmarks for service and safety that will encourage community support for participating vendors. Smithfield was selected as what Dooley referred to as a “test subject” for the program when VAFMA board secretary Meredith Leslie Johnson asked her last fall for help organizing the certification program. The two met for the first time via videoconference in late October.

“The program is designed to get market managers thinking about what they are doing and how it is working for their market/community, and what they are not doing that would improve their market,” Dooley said.

For each of the identified categories, Smithfield was scored on a one- to three-point scale. Smithfield netted more than 25 points, automatically awarding its market the highest-level gold standard. An advisory committee of market managers, state agency representatives and university staff devised the program standards.

“It is not a scary process; it is not onerous,” said Kim Hutchinson, executive director of VAFMA, in a video interview published to the association’s website. “You as a market manager are already doing a large component of what you need to do in order to become certified. We are just highlighting that.”

The certification process allows markets to look at their own efforts for members and the community..

“There are several advantages to being certified including strengthening your market for the benefit of both your community and your vendors,” Dooley said. “When going over the different categories with Meredith, it made me stop and think about everything that goes on, at and for, our market and if we are doing it to the standard that VAFMA has designated.”

Smithfield’s market operates seasonally from the parking lot behind the Bank of Southside Virginia on Main Street from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday from April through November. The first 2024 market is set for April 6.