Rockford’s Farm Market voted best in national contest

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

Using the tried and true “hunt and peck method”, Cliff laboriously inputs one of the 3,405 farm market contest votes collected Saturday mornings during the 13 weeks of the America’s Favorite Farmers Market contest.

When the online polling site closed last Wednesday evening at midnight, the Rockford Farm Market found itself atop the leader board in ALL market size categories in the 2011 America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest.

The online contest is an annual nationwide challenge, sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, a pro-agriculture organization with headquarters in Washington D.C. More information and complete rankings across the country can be found at www.farmland.org.

With 6,083 votes Rockford found itself in first place nationwide in the small market size category (16-30 vendors), followed by the Venice Farmers Market of Venice, FL some 475 votes behind. Our little sister, the Manistique, MI farmers market (up in the U.P., eh) finished second nationwide, with 3,208 votes, in the boutique market category (2-15 vendors) to another Florida farm market in North Port, FL.

All Michiganders have much to be proud of with two small-town farm markets, strictly vending locally harvested and fresh from the field Michigan produce, rising (as cream does) to top rankings.

The Rockford Farm Market has actually pulled off a trifecta in this contest. First, our Farm Market claims the prize as Michigan’s Favorite Farm Market. Second, our Farm Market claims the prize as America’s Favorite Farm Market in the small market category. And third, market categories aside, having polled higher vote totals than any market nationwide, our Farm Market has earned the right to claim it is truly, “America’s Favorite Farm Market”.

Was any of this an easy task – you bet it wasn’t! Many readers are aware that your reporters have acted as volunteer campaign managers during the 13-week contest (June – August). Every Saturday morning we found ourselves at Farm Market harvesting votes from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the 5th week, we set up a polling site and began asking market-goers for their names and email addresses allowing us to cast their votes online. Most, if not all, willingly did so. They readily admitted they had read or seen media coverage of the contest and intended to vote but just never found the time to do so.

To say that we were successful in this manner of vote gathering would be a gross understatement. Two Saturday mornings later we had collected and input enough votes to place Rockford’s Farm Market on top in its category and at the same time lead all markets in the entire nation (votes to a lesser degree were also continually coming in online).

Each week the swell of media coverage of Rockford’s lead brought new visitors to Rockford and its Farm Market seeking to discover what all the “buzz” was about. They loved the “charm” of our town and its “Pure Michigan” farm market and added to our vote totals at the market’s polling site. In this way every consecutive week saw an increase over the previous week in votes being cast at the market’s polling site.

Clinging tenaciously to our lead in the 13th and final week we found ourselves, on the morning of the second to last day of the contest, having been overtaken overnight by a determined Venice, FL farm market. We were then 400 votes behind!

Venice didn’t know what they were up against. We had as yet to enter the bulk of the previous Saturday’s Farm Market vote gathering efforts (540 votes). By that evening we were again ahead by some 100 votes and the following day, on the last day of the contest, our lead began to extend as a result of additional online voting support from the entire community and beyond resulting in a hard earned and much deserved victory for the City sponsored, Rockford Farm Market.

Little did we realize, as we collected names and email addresses, some 10 to a page and later 20 to a page (to conserve paper) that we would end up with a 3-ring binder the size and thickness of a Grand Rapids telephone book. What we have today might be the world’s largest hand-written name and email address book. Containing 3,605 entries (56% of the total vote), it is probably worthy of certification as a world record in the Guinness Book of World Records! Fear not those of you whose names are listed, as we promised, they will not be used for any such purpose nor will they be sold or given away for that matter. We just think it’s a real neat factoid of this contest and we were honored by your trust in us.

There’s another important story to be told, a back story if you will, which can be found elsewhere in this edition of the Squire. It will deal less with facts and figures and more with the people and events that made this improbable victory happen.

For now let’s just say, “Hooray” and “Yeah, Rockford”!

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