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Peddlers Mall is a family-owned chain of flea markets in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia. They provide communities with entrepreneurial opportunities as well as affordable goods. In the harvest season of 2022, they started an initiative to distribute healthy and locally grown produce.
During the harvest season of 2022, Nick George, co-owner and CEO of the Peddlers Mall, partnered with a local farmer to bring fresh produce to an area of unmet need. The small-town farmer, Mr. Pennington, approached Mr. George with a surplus of produce and an idea was born. Mr. George would allow Mr. Pennington to host his produce stand in the parking lot of the Lexington Peddler’s Mall for free and Mr. Pennington would distribute any leftover goods to the workers and families of the mall workers at the end of the weekend sale.
The initiative started as a one-off occasion, but over the summer/fall it became a consistent engagement. Mr. Pennington came to rely on his weekend sales which were much more than his roadside stand and the mall workers started to depend on their weekly drop of produce. It was truly a win-win situation that illuminated how community collaboration can fill unmet needs for multiple groups of people. While Lexington is not necessarily a food desert, it does not have easy access to fresh produce comparable to Mr. Pennington's goods. Mr. George also noted a loss of appreciation for this type of straight-from-the-farmer acquisition of produce which was somewhat restored in this exchange.
This initiative supports multiple tenets of the UN SDG: End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture. It enables the most sustainable type of agriculture and local farming, and it improves the nutrition of a community. While this initiative started organically, it was intentionally sustained throughout the season and is coming back this year in a bigger way.
The biggest inspiration for this innovation came from the small communities across Kentucky. Mr. George’s family is local to one of the areas – known for its work ethic, grit, and stunning farmland. While small and sustainable farming is becoming less and less common these days, it is still a cornerstone for many communities in rural Kentucky. Often these efforts are not appreciated in larger metro areas of the state and this initiative was a way to share and bring awareness to the bounty that is produced across Kentucky. Mr. George stated, “Kentucky is known for its rolling hills and prosperous farms but many local people don’t have a way to access the fruits of their neighbors' labor. Especially in Lexington. This changed that for my team and our local customers.”
In the short term, Mr. Pennington and Mr. George experienced a successful season of harvest and flea marketing. But more importantly, the mall workers and their families were impacted by the free food and good will. They were able to feed their families and share with others the things they took home at the end of the weekend. Mr. George hopes these efforts inspired families to try new recipes with produce they may not have usually bought or could have afforded at the grocery store. He is also hopeful that it inspires them to eat healthier and fresher food year-round.
In the long term, the impact may touch many more lives. This year, the duo plans to move the produce stand inside the flea market to a permanent booth. This will allow Mr. Pennington even more space to market his goods and an opportunity to bring others on board. While most people don’t typically show up to a flea market expecting a farmer’s market, Mr. George expects nothing but good things from this pleasant surprise for his customers. And while getting a permanent booth runs the risk of selling out of produce goods, Mr. Pennington plans to maintain his commitment to sharing his crop with the mall workers and cashier – even if that means he holds some back.
From the beginning, this innovation brought increased foot traffic to Peddlers Mall. It was easy for people driving by to stop in the parking lot for the produce, but while they were there, they could also experience the flea market. Mr. George noted that he did see the traffic increase reflected financially but more importantly, he noted the excitement of his employees for their weekly drop.
This initiative has also inspired Mr. George to connect with smaller communities outside of the cities and locations where his stores are based. While he already has other community efforts in metro areas like Louisville, this showed him the impact that the business can also have on the smaller outskirt towns.
This innovation supports sustainable farming and healthy eating. It promotes community collaboration, local entrepreneurship, and friendly fellowships. It also helps address the giant issue of food waste. Achieving the UN SDGs will require both large-scale initiatives as well as smaller grassroots efforts by communities such as this one.
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Nick George, Co-owner and CEO