by James Heffernan
When Gerald Forsburg and his family purchased the historic Farm Bureau building on King Street in Mount Jackson last summer, the seed was planted for a year-round indoor-outdoor farmers market to help revive the town’s commercial district and draw visitors to Shenandoah County.
“Over the last several years, we’ve gotten to know a few small niche farmers locally,” said Forsburg, an architect who shares his wife’s passion for community food sourcing. “Other than at their own farm, they didn’t really have an outlet to sell their goods. So we wanted to offer that.”
Forsburg knew financing the project wouldn’t be easy. Commercial renovations can be costly, and loans can be hard to get for new businesses without much collateral. Add to the mix the town’s requirement that Mount Jackson Farmers’ Market put up the money to repave the vacant building’s parking lot and install new curb, gutter and sidewalk, and the total cost of the project approached $750,000.
So the farmers market turned to KickStarter.com, an online fundraising source for startup ventures. Users post a project, then reward donors with gifts and promotions based on their level of giving.
“It’s a way for people to invest in something they believe in and get something in return,” Forsburg says. The market’s rewards included coffee mugs, T-shirts, a sunflower trivet, a gourmet meal at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival and an extravagant weekend getaway in the valley complete with hot air balloon rides.
Kickstarter.com protects investors by requiring that a project establish a minimum fundraising goal within a specified time frame. If the goal is not met, no rewards change hands. “Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk,” according to the website.
Mount Jackson Farmers’ Market did not reach its goal of $25,000 in 31 days to cover the town’s requirement for site improvements, but the project did inspire 110 people to pledge $14,337, the majority of it from local sources. “We took that as encouragement to continue on with the project,” Forsburg says.
The outdoor portion of the market opened for its second season on April 14, with space for up to 16 vendors offering fresh produce, meats, baked goods, flowers, crafts and more. The market also invites area musicians to provide live entertainment. Hours are Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m., through October.
Meanwhile, Forsburg plans to open an architectural salvage business on site, having recently purchased an old house outside Mount Jackson for materials. The business will be used in part to finance renovations to the 9,000-square-foot building. He hopes to be able to open an indoor market there later this summer.
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