By Joseph Climer

It’s not unusual to pass by the Midtown Shopping Center before the sun comes up to see what looks like the sprawl of a traveling carnival. Folks scurry around like worker ants – carrying foldout tables, metal chairs, and Grove tents. Pickup trucks dot the perimeter filled with watermelons or squash, depending on the season. As the sun rises, folks make their way into the parking lot for another round of Oxford’s Midtown Farmers’ Market – no ticket needed for entry.

Gentlemen shake hands, dogs bark, and locals filter through each booth, thoughtfully and methodically holding each piece of produce until they find the right one. This bounty of growers, bakers, and artists – all doing their part to help add to the allure Oxford holds.

Market director Aileen Bost is often seen directing traffic. She says one of the biggest draws for residents is the ability to choose fresh produce straight from the local farmers.

“The products are fresh, and people can visit with the growers onsite to ask questions,” she says. “Our items are not shipped – the produce is picked right from the field, picked that very day. You can’t get freshness like that just anywhere.”

There’s plant life rooted in 5-gallon buckets from Fudgetown and flatbed trailers that have been transformed into mini-mobile grocery stores. You can say good morning to Mr. and Mrs. Bost of Bost Farms (Oxford, MS) as they unload hauls of butter lettuce and Yukon Gold potatoes.

You can talk with Katherine Webb of Farmstead Florals (Oxford, MS) about seasonal blooms or the economics of a business model that leans into the honor system. Rather than taking the brick-and-mortar approach, she has established several flower stands, all scattered about Oxford and operating on a “take some flowers, leave some cash” basis.

Talisha Gordon of Live Again Event (Oxford, MS) also brings chocolate-covered strawberries, pecan pies, and a variety of pound cakes – all made in a cottage food operation not subject to Mississippi’s food and safety regulations.

People travel from out of town as well- buyers and sellers alike. Some from the outskirts & others a little further. James and Nancy Callahan (of Moon Lake Pecans) rack up highway miles from their orchard in the Delta to bring pecans by the gallon. Matt and Bekah Chapman (of Mardis Honey) bring jugs of sun-kissed honey from Taylor, MS, where they’ve been operating for nearly two decades.

All said – I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard recently that tossed back and forth the consumer access to products so fresh and local. I immediately raised my eyebrow – citing how places like the Midtown Farmers Market have long been minding these gaps. I was heard yet educated on the lack of these sorts of programs in places like the Mississippi Delta. I’ve been in Oxford long enough to feel like a local and haven’t had much need to venture to other parts of Mississippi without the intent of crossing state lines in a long time. I lose sight of the happenings in the places often lost in the folds of the Magnolia state. I’m also comfortable and it’s sometimes easy to overlook our offerings on my way to the convenience store. These markets are the essence of grassroots – keeping what we earn local. Grown here, sold here and consumed here. They’re the essence of community and knowing your neighbor. They are the essence of good health, and it is most important we keep them alive.

The Mid-town Farmers’ Market, located at the Mid-town Shopping Center on North Lamar, is certified by the Mississippi Certified Farmers Market organization. The farmers’ program “is a voluntary branding program, created and administered by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to promote and identify a marketplace for Mississippi-grown fruits, vegetables, plant materials and other products made or processed in the state.” Its focus “is designed for true farmers markets that have become so important to the preservation and promotion of Mississippi agriculture.”

The Mid-town Farmers’ Market operates from May to October on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7-11 a.m.