A Farmers Market
leaders explore benefits of
promoting local produce growers
(April 2002) MADISON, Ind. Dave Adams spent many
Saturday mornings last summer mingling with people at the farmers
market on Jefferson Street in downtown Madison.
But the Madison Main Street Program director wasnt there necessarily
to buy or sell the fresh produce displayed on card tables and truck
tailgates. Adams was drawn to the community atmosphere created each
week by this eclectic crowd of farmers, townspeople and tourists.
While Adams may appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit
displayed by these small farm owners and the home-grown goods they provide,
he sees the potential that an expanded, more formally organized farmers
market might pose for drawing even more people downtown.
And hes not alone. Main Street Program and city government officials
all over Indiana are beginning to study the connection between farm
and community as an untapped resource for strengthening commercial enterprise
by drawing on their countys agricultural roots.
We want to do everything we can to create a fun and exciting atmosphere,
so its not just a produce market but a whole experience for people,
Adams said. And we want it to be profitable for growers. I see
it growing into something really big for us.
The USDA reports a 63 percent increase in farmers markets from
1994 to 2000. The 2000 National Farmers Market Directory lists
2,800 farmers markets operating in the United States.
The Madison farmers market, which has operated for years, has experienced
a recent revival, with the number of spots possibly growing from 12
to 18 this summer, according to Beverly Armstrong, the City of Madisons
clerk-treasurer who has managed the market since 1987.
Last year, we had more vendors than spots, so we hope to expand
the market around onto Main Street this year, said Armstrong,
who plans to present the plan to the city council for a vote in April.
Farmers markets became the focus of attention on March 20 when
more than 125 people from around the state took part in a daylong farmers
market workshop at the Venture Out Business Center in Madison.
Workshop participants studied the recent changes in the areas
agriculture industry and the factors that have led to the rise in neighborhood
farmers markets. The event attracted produce farmers and officials
from local governments, universities and agricultural entities who support
the idea of building on this grassroots commodity already present in
rural communities. Dozens of Indiana towns were represented.
And with money becoming available through federal programs designed
to support alternative farming methods to tobacco, many of these community
leaders realize the time to act is now.
Theres such a potential here, and when we see the enthusiasm,
we think its something thats going to continue to grow,
said Linda Wood, regional director of the Southeastern Indiana Small
Business Development Center.
Wood assisted officials from the Southern Indiana Rural Development
Project in planning the workshop. Other sponsors included the Southern
Indiana Small Business Development Center, Indiana Rural Development
Council, Historic Hoosier Hills and the Purdue Cooperative Extension
Service. SIRDP is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving
the rural counties of southern Indiana.
The event featured speakers and breakout sessions for producers and
city leaders interested in starting or expanding their farmers
The one thing we noticed is that many people stayed afterward
to network, so that indicated to us there is a lot of excitement here,
The workshop opened with a presentation by Dr. Timothy Woods, a University
of Kentucky extension specialist, followed by comments from Joe Pearson,
Indianas Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture, and a panel discussion
of state experts, and concluded with breakout sessions for producers
and local government officials interested in starting, expanding or
improving their hometown farmers markets.
Officials from two southeastern Indiana communities North Vernon
and Bloomington made presentations as the models for others to
Jennings County farmer and SIRDP member Bud Beesley made a presentation
on the formation four years ago and eventual success of the North Vernon
farmers market. It operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
by a farmers market board and is situated along Hwy. 7 at the
city park complex in the heart of town.
When we started out, it was a big joke; nobody took us seriously,
said Beesley, a farmer and employee of the Jennings County Farm Bureau.
Now we have 26 producers and 400 customers a week.
Bloomingtons farmers market, by contrast, is operated by
the citys parks department, according to parks official Marcia
Veldman. Drawing on the towns university population and eclectic
atmosphere, the Bloomington farmers market features free, live
entertainment or cooking demonstrations on weekends, plus an art and
crafts fair four times a year. The market also provides space for local
not-for-profit groups to distribute information and rent shopping carts.
The market began in 1975 with $350,000 in seed money from the city.
Since then, the market has moved three times, eventually to its present
location in a large parking lot adjacent to city hall. It operates Tuesdays
and Saturdays with 15 vendors on average, plus a newly added bread stall
and cafe to help keep people there longer, Veldman said.
While not presenters at the workshop, a third example is the privately-run,
for-profit farmers market that owners Steve and Lisa Slonaker
operate in Centerville, Ind., part of greater Richmond. Drawing on the
talents of the local Amish population, the Slonakers help farmers grow
produce by renting land plots on their 450 acres and then helping them
transport their goods to town to be sold at their farmers market.
After researching farmers markets across the country and even
in Europe, the Slonakers started their farmers market four years
ago. Since then, they have fine-tuned the operation to bring together
buyers and sellers. The market will have a dozen vendors this year,
We researched this for about six years before we opened,
Steve said. His advice for others is to stress variety in what is sold.
Everybody wants to grow corn and tomatoes, but you cant
do that. You need variety.
The Centerville Farmers Market offers traditional produce as well
as carrots, asparagus, fresh-cut flowers, herbs and many items, such
as jams, jellies and flower mixes, that Lisa buys on the wholesale market
to be sold in conjunction with produce.
We look for anything we can find out in the community that you
cant find in the chain stores, Lisa said. She also stresses
the importance of appearance when it comes to setting up a farmers
The setup has to look good. People dont like to look at
the back end of a pickup truck when theyre buying food,
Whether operated by its own organization of farmers, the parks department
or a private entity, farmers markets seem to be the newest rage
among city leaders hoping to generate more traffic in their downtowns.
Some officials came to seek answers to problems associated with their
hometown farmers market.
Scottsburg Mayor Bill Graham said his loosely run farmers market
has operated for years on the main Hwy. 56 that runs past the courthouse
square in the downtown.
But state highway officials say that because of traffic congestion,
the farmers must move off Hwy. 56 this year. Graham hasnt told
the farmers the bad news yet, but he expects it will cause a stir. He
is trying to find a solution to not only moving the market elsewhere
but better organizing it to help both the farmers and the town.
Its not that we dont want the farmers market,
but we have state transportation officials all over us about this,
Graham said. Weve got to do something before our farmers
market opens in April.
In Madison, the issue is attracting buyers and sellers on a consistent
basis. City officials recently applied for a $7,000 grant from the National
Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Program, but the request
was denied. They had planned to use the money to buy cloth canopies
for each vendor to set up on market days to protect them from the elements.
No other funding source is available, although officials are looking
for other grant possibilities. Some vendors use their own umbrellas
Canopies would help make our days spent there more consistent,
because right now whenever it rains, we have to leave, said Canaan,
Ind., organic farmer David Wadsworth. He has participated in the market
for three years and says he is happy with the improvements planned for
Theres a lot of people putting a lot of effort into it right
now, he said.
Two years ago, the city council discussed the idea of moving the farmers
market to Lytle Park, where there is more shade and concrete areas for
vendors. But the idea was not received well by vendors, so it was dropped,
Madisons farmers market operates from late April to October,
from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The biggest
crowds are from 8 a.m to noon Saturday.
In the past, Madison vendors had to attend a spring auction of market
spots along Jefferson Street to ensure a place to sell their goods.
This year, city officials have eliminated the auction system and will
assign spots, first to last years vendors and then to any new
ones if spots are available, for $25 each.
Armstrong said the vendors provide a nice variety of items for sale,
and that the city bought a new banner and some yard signs last year
to promote the market.
In the fall, a group of youngsters from Girls Inc. came over to paint
pumpkins provided by the farmers, Adams said. We want to bring
in more entertainment this year. Weve had churches and other groups
holding bake sales. And we want to do some educational things.
Indiana is not alone in the farmers market trend. Were
seeing more farmers markets forming statewide in Kentucky,
said UKs Woods. His slide show presented the results of a feasibility
study that UK had conducted on farmers markets in Tennessee, Virginia,
North Carolina and Kentucky. The goal was to find out what worked and
didnt work, he said, because Kentucky legislators are interested
in using some of the tobacco settlement money to establish regional
marketing facilities to foster and support farmers markets and
Were seeing retailer consolidation, with fewer stores and
big conglomerates, such as Wal-Mart and Kroger and Meyers, taking over.
And theres more space being devoted to produce in these stores
in response to consumer interest in fresh produce, Woods said.
That means more business for small produce farmers who supply such stores
as wholesalers, he said. In addition to wholesaling and downtown farmers
markets, UK officials found a boom in on-farm retailing. Bray Orchards
in Bedford, Ky., Huber Farms in Starlight, Ind., and Stream Cliff Farm
in Commiskey, Ind. are local examples of this.
Regardless of the scope of a farmers market, Woods said operators
must address several issues, such as ownership, security, liability
insurance, promotion and management.
Woods and other presenters agreed that certain factors must be right
for a farmers market to succeed. These included location, convenient
access to and visibility from major highways, functionally designed
buildings or stalls, and the ability to attract a sufficient number
of regular buyers and sellers. The proximity of a farmers market
to the actual producers should also be considered. The Slonakers take
advantage of an orchard located just five miles from their Centerville
We found in our study that farmers are willing to travel up to
50 miles to take part in an active market, Woods said.
Many of these farmers markets participate in the U.S. governments
Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program,
or WIC. Established in 1992, WIC provides mothers with infants up to
age 5 with coupons that can be used to purchase fresh produce at participating
farmers markets. The programs goal is to provide nutritious
food to these families who are at nutritional risk, and to expand consumers
awareness and use of farmers markets.
In 2000, 58 percent of all farmers markets in America participated
in WIC, food stamps, local or state nutrition programs, according to
the USDA. Last year in Indiana alone, WIC fed 126,000 people a month
in 92 counties while relying on 58 sponsoring agencies, according to
WIC director Cheryl Moles. About $85 million of the states $102
million WIC budget was used to buy food. The rest was used for administrative
costs and educational programs. Moles said $280,000 in WIC vouchers
was redeemed at farmers markets.
This summer, the USDA plans to administer a new, grant-funded senior
citizens program to be piloted at farmers markets in North Vernon,
Muncie, Bloomington and Lafayette. It will work similarly by providing
food vouchers to those who qualify.
Officials involved in planning the workshop say they are pleased with
the turnout and are eager to begin planning a future tri-state conference
involving officials from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
Youve got to start somewhere, and this was a great first
step, said Jerry Hay, a USDA cooperative development specialist
based in North Vernon.
Were getting great reaction from all corners of the state,
and were talking with the Indiana Main Street Program about partnering
with us, said Wendy Dan Chesser of the Indiana Rural Development
Council. She said her organization wants to serve as a catalyst to help
Indiana communities reach their goals of operating a successful farmers
Farmers markets are critical to the agriculture sector here
in Indiana and how we move produce, said Pearson. He urged community
leaders to remain committed to this goal by partnering with local organizations
and by developing a business plan.
Keep your dream and dont give up, Pearson told the
group. Dont be discouraged about what your farmers
market can be.
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