April 2018
Homeplace & Community

A Standard Worthy of Emulation

Orrville Farmers Market sets the standard for community transformation.

Orrville Farmers Market owner Judy McKinney displays some sweet treats at the market.

 

When Judy McKinney arrived in Orrville a few years ago, she knew the little Dallas County town had potential and she didn’t waste words or time proving her point.

What caught her attention was a dilapidated building that provided the backdrop for a transformation from hopelessness to profitability.

A farm girl who grew up in Florida, Mc-Kinney had a feeling it could be a successful farmers market if enough people displayed the same determination. They did.

It wasn’t long before little Orrville, population just under 200, had become a destination … an attraction on Alabama’s agricultural map.

In just 18 months, Orrville Farmers Market has spread its wings and established itself as a unique business … a standard worthy of emulation.

"This place wasn’t much more than three walls and a concrete floor, but we’ve turned it into something special," said a smiling McKinney.

Farmers markets in Alabama seem to pop up like kudzu vines during the spring and summer months, but few have made the same impression as the one McKinney has created.

When peach season rolls around, farmers hope they’ll be able to sell everything from their roadside stands. When they can’t, soggy leftovers usually get discarded.

Not so at Orrville Farmers Market. McKinney has perfected a process – an evolution – that finds a way to use everything from harvest to consumption.

Farmers know if they can’t sell everything at the market, they can always sell it to McKinney, who transforms the fruit into the dessert part of meat-and-three luncheons.

"What we’ve been able to do is create a sustainable market, one maximizing opportunities for farmers to sell their products without worrying about waste," McKinney said.

Other castoffs wind up feeding chickens and cows or in a composting or seeding process, she added.

Dallas County Commissioner Larry Nichols is one of McKinney’s biggest supporters.

"The market has been a wonderful blessing for us because it’s increased traffic and that means more revenue for our businesses as well as tax growth," Nichols said.

 

Judy helps happy customer Danny Terrell after lunch.

Orrville has never been a blue chip community but proud residents do all they can to keep it above water financially.

The town’s annual tractor show has been known to attract thousands of spectators and is growing as fast as those kudzu vines.

"We had seven or eight successful stores in Orrville at one time, but they dried up and went away over a period of years," Nichols related. "Our young people go to college and decide not to come back home. That’s not good."

Orrville was first known as Orr’s Mills, but made its first appearance on maps in 1853, according to author Stuart Harris in his popular book, "Alabama Place-Names."

The town was named for James Franklin Orr, who bought land in the area in 1842. He developed the land around his commercial cotton gin.

At the height of the recreational boating industry, Orrville was home to Baker-Jewell Inc., a small manufacturing company that produced small fiberglass boats for the recreational market.

Orrville Farmers Market opened for business in 2016 in the heart of the town and sells locally grown, farm-fresh produce; artisan foods; agricultural-based products; and other items.

McKinney currently has 54 chickens and a rooster named "Doodle," short for Cock-a-Doodle-Do. They cluck and prance their way around her property.

She said her chickens are beginning to produce and she’s optimistic there will be lots more because she’s only had Doodle for six months.

Judy McKinney, right, and assistant Kelly McLendon are kept busy welcoming customers throughout the day.

 

Assisting McKinney is Kelly McLendon, a Judson College graduate who majored in psychology and religious studies.

Her classroom these days is the farmers market where she puts in long hours if need be. Daily experiences in dealing with the public are invaluable … and having McKinney as a teacher isn’t bad either.

"Judy is one of the hardest working women I know," McLendon said. "She is full of passion and vision, especially when it comes to Orrville where she is helping to generate new life and hope in our town."

It didn’t take employees very long to realize they were working for a winner, but the quick success was a pleasant surprise.

McKinney believes that what she and her staff have created can easily continue to grow in the years to come.

Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, feels the same way.

"Judy is creative and tireless," said Wood, whose business is based in Selma. "Most of all, she seems to have new ideas all the time. That’s a big reason why people keep going to their market … to see what she’s got going.

"Mix traditional farming with a dab of American ingenuity and you’ve got Judy McKinney. She’s not afraid to try something different."

Her formative years in agriculture served as outdoor classrooms, not to mention the experiments she and her family tried out to see if they’d work.

"We were interested in master gardening, landscaping and other things," said McKinney, recalling how breakfast and lunch was added at the market. "Many prefer to stay away from fast-food services."

"There was really no place to sit down and eat at first, but it didn’t take long for people to come in for lunch," McLendon explained. "Breakfast is also popular at our market."

McKinney’s food service success has grown to such an extent that it’s not unusual to have up to 150 hungry tourists drop by for lunch.

"We have to put up a tent to accommodate them, but we’re happy to do it," McKinney said. "That shows how fast we’re growing."

In addition to cattle and other livestock, Judy and her husband Erwin remain active in other endeavors. Judy vividly remembers how her family picked apples and turned them into applesauce and tarts.

The couple started a seed company 12 years ago after he noticed some farmers weren’t harvesting seed heads before the hay was cut.

It wasn’t long before their combines were cutting seed heads and, in the process, creating two crops instead of one.

Erwin and Judy were high school sweethearts who are celebrating their silver anniversary this year. They have two sons, Matthew and Cooper.

"They are hard-working, honest, creative, salt-of-the-earth people," Wood said. "Most of all, they are great assets to our state and community."

 

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.