It was an 8th-grader that came up with the notion of having an arts and crafts festival to help offset the income her Grand Ridge FFA chapter lost this year because COVID-19 had forced the cancellation of the group’s annual banquet. Many dollars are raised through auctions and sponsorships associated with that dinner, enough to help pay the significant food-and-hay bill for the chapter’s goat stock, some travel expenses associated with FFA competitions, and other related costs throughout the school year.
Grand Ridge FFA advisor Shawna Ferguson said young Ashbi Alexander came up with the idea that blossomed into a much bigger event than she or anyone else had dared hope.
Ferguson knew that, in order to make the event really pay off, her team would have to go bigger than the five or six vendors that could fit in the school’s likely designated space for such things, so she secured Citizen’s Lodge. It has room for more than 40 vendors. And when Ferguson put out notices on social media five weeks ago that vendors were welcome to participate in the “Merry Market,” more than 40 signed on to rent booth space.
Because of that enthused participation of sellers, the vending fair has already hit a positive financial mark for Grand Ridge FFA. But it’s doing more than that, said a tearful Ferguson in a conversation three days ahead of the event.
“All of us want to get out,” Ferguson said. “All of us have been self-quarantining, just feeling locked up for so long, and here we are at Christmas and missing so much the fellowship common for the time of year. This is an opportunity to kick off a holiday season as safely and as best we can. We know some can’t afford to get out and do it because they may be at higher risk, but for those who can, it’s an opportunity to feel some of that Christmas spirit, to get out and get our festival food fixes, to see others, to be entertained, and to support local small businesses that have unique few-of-a-kind things to offer that you just can’t find in a big box store. It really will be a great opportunity to pick up something very special for the people you love and want to gift. I think this is a shot at setting our Christmas spirit free and I think that’s why everyone has jumped in to help so much. This has grown quickly over the five weeks we’ve had to put it together. I think everyone wants it as much as we do. We are so grateful for that, and so excited to be making it happen.”
Ferguson said the Merry Market team recognizes the importance of COVID-19 precautions and asks that those attending observe them. “We’re asking people to wear masks, to social distance and to just respect and carry out all the precautions that are appropriate,” she said. “It’s outdoor, and that in itself does help, but it also takes these individual efforts to have a safety-forward event.”
She said that, in addition to the many, many local small companies coming, there will be representatives from a few big name brands will be there as well.
Honey from local hives, custom pens and shavers, door hangers and other decor, sauces, jams, cakes, infused vinegars with ingredients obtained from local farmers, and much more will be available from the community vendors.
As many sellers as there are, Ferguson said, there are even more volunteers and donors working behind the scenes to make the event possible and to go smoothly. Roughly 40 FFA members and 20-30 parents are involved, she said, for example.
She said Ed Ham, of Ham Peanuts, donated four signs promoting the event. Another individual paid for the appearance of the headline performers, a group that itself gave the FFA a deep discount. Ben Castro, a graduate of Sneads High School, is a member of the headlining Tobacco Road Band, along with a man that Ferguson went to school with in Englewood. Their generosity, she said, made it possible for the donor, Donald Braddy, to handle the cost alone.
Another FFA chapter, the one at Cottondale High School, will be there as a food vendor selling barbecue sandwiches and other eats, along with bottles of pepper sauce made from peppers the group grew. Malone FFA had a prior day-long obligation at a cattle competition, but that chapter’s sponsor, Kim Barber, will be stopping by that morning to sing a Christmas song at 9 a.m. to help open the event as a gesture of support before she heads out to her group’s event.
In addition to the food, raw produce, homemade items and other wares being offered by vendors, there will be a petting zoo and opportunities to have kids’ pictures taken with Santa.
Students from FFA will be on duty that day helping coordinate the petting zoo and Santa visits to ensure proper distancing and hand-sanitizing, and will be a big force in post-event site clean-up. Chipola College law enforcement academy students are coming to help with parking.
It gets underway at 9 a.m. and concludes around 4 p.m., an hour after the show by the entertainment headliner, Tobacco Road Band.
Citizens Lodge is located at 4574 Lodge Drive, Marianna.
SCHEDULE OF PERFORMERS
9 a.m.: Kim Barber opens the event entertainment with a Christmas song, “Come On, Ring Those Bells.”