By Lucia Tonachel
The 2017 Farmers Market season will begin this Thursday, May 11. The Jewel of the Prairie boasts a unique market: not only does it provide a wide variety of goods, it is completely a producer market. This means that all vendors produce the products they sell and consumers have the unusual opportunity to purchase directly from the makers. In a world often preoccupied by global market happenings, this is truly a breath of fresh air.
The Market is situated at Central Park, perching alongside the construction on the corner of 4th Avenue and Broad Street. Approximately 30 vendors will line the sidewalk on Thursday afternoons and about a third will return on Saturday morning. Throughout the season, musicians, artists and chefs will accompany vendors. Musicians will play live music, artists of all ages will filter in from Arts Council events and chefs will shop for ingredients at the market and showcase their preparations.
Chamber of Commerce Director Rachael Kinnick has worked to secure new collaborations at both local and state levels. To Kinnick, the goal of the market is to “increase access to local foods,” and she hopes that “people of all walks of life have opportunity to come to the farmers market … and feel welcome.”
One of Kinnick’s favorite parts of the market is watching interactions between vendors and community members grow into supportive, familial relationships. In part, this is due to the attitude of vendors towards the market. “Our vendors are trying to grow a culture, not just to grow food,” Kinnick explained.
At the end of the last market season, the Chamber began to incorporate SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and credit/debit transactions as purchasing options. While many vendors were interested in participating, transaction fees made these purchasing options less economically viable. Through sponsorships from Chamber collaborators, vendors are now able to enroll without any transactions fees. Not only is this beneficial for vendors, but it also opens the entire market to those using SNAP.
Individuals who wish to use SNAP benefits or credit/debit cards exchange money for tokens at a central booth which can then be used as currency at a vendor stand. Collaboration with the statewide Double Up Food Bucks program will allow the market to be more accessible than ever before. The Double Up Food Bucks program allows the Chamber to effectively double SNAP benefits spent at the market.
“If they come to purchase $10 in SNAP transaction, we will give them up to an additional $10 free.”
Increasing the reach of the market farther, vendors donated approximately 500 pounds of produce to Mid-Iowa Community Action, underscoring the community-mindedness of the market and its vendors.
Another benefit which might particularly appeal to college students is the market punch card. Every purchase made from a market vendor earns a stamp on the punch card, and every 10 punches earns an entrance into a raffle for a market basket. These baskets feature donations from most market vendors, including baked goods, fresh produce and other goods.
The upcoming season is looking even more diverse than the last, including both returning and new vendors. Kinnick is looking forward to crispy bars and on-demand made crafts as well as asparagus at the beginning of the season and plants and hanging baskets in June. Vendors also sell baked goods, dairy and meat products, crafts, fruits and a wide variety of vegetables.
So whether or not Grinnellians are spending the summer in town (#grinnellsummer), the Farmer’s Market provides a huge variety of goods and unparalleled opportunities for community engagement. Stop by the market on Thursdays or Saturdays for groceries, decorations, snacks and plants!