By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
MIDDLEBURY — Stu Holaway stood on a grassy lawn in the shade of a large sycamore tree Wednesday afternoon and talked about his business idea for the spot.
Saturday morning the opening will be filled with fresh food vendors and a few tables of local crafts as the first-ever Mill Stream Farmers Market is held.
“People can stand around in the middle and get fresh fruit and produce,” Holaway said as he swung his arm around to point out a curve of trees that enclose the lawn at the former Wanberg Popcorn Plant on East Warren Street.
Holaway, and his partner Kent Yoder, purchased the plant in April from Forrest Wanberg Jr., the last person to operate a popcorn bagging operation at the complex. Holaway and Yoder have a couple of other ventures planned for the property, but it is the farmers market that the public will notice first.
The market will begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and will end at noon, unless buyers and sellers decide to keep going into the afternoon. Then after this Saturday the market will be held each Saturday through the first week of September. After that, depending on the demand, the market may be extended into October, according to Holaway.
Holaway said his and Yoder’s families are into the healthy eating lifestyle, so they thought a farmers market would be a good way to offer the same food options to the public.
“Consumers are becoming much more aware of the value of healthy food instead of taking vitamins,” Holaway said.
Local vendors have signed up to offer products and produce at Saturday’s kick-off event, Holaway said. Local food buyers will be able to obtain fresh, locally-grown food from Middlebury-area gardens and farms.
“I have been amazed at the interest,” Holaway said. “Quickly we got up to 10 vendors.”
And, Holaway said, the property has room to grow up to 30 vendors.
The popcorn factory is one of the county’s oldest industrial sites. The factory was constructed as a sawmill in 1836 and two years later was converted to a grain mill. Inside, massive beams still carry the chop marks of adzes that were used to square up trees felled from the surrounding virgin forest to make the structure.
Seeing how the plant is set up to move grain, Holaway and Yoder want to begin custom bagging operations for grain in 2014 using the historic hoppers and chutes that once moved popcorn to the nation’s food industries.
There are 17 silos on the property for grain storage, but Pioneer Hybrid of Constantine, Mich. is leasing 14 of them.
“What we are looking for is companies that have too much inventory,” Holaway said of the bagging plans.
Also, the partners are distributing locally made products from cottage industries.
“We thought we would set up a distribution company here and help them market their goods,” Holaway said.
There is a warehouse on site to store the products. Already Wingard’s Custom Plastics and its sister operation, WCP, is using the distribution business to market its geothermal water livestock tanks, feed carts, tack boxes and other equestrian products. WCP makes outdoor furniture.
Another local company, Horsing Around Again and Partners, manufactures a propane-heated livestock water tank that is being distributed through Holaway’s and Yoder’s Mill Stream Marketing company.
Anyone wanting to become a vendor at the farmers market or have questions should contact LaVern Graber at 574-358-0025 or Holaway at 574-536-3229.