By Grace Mendel
If the smells of freshly baked banana bread, apple pie, kettle corn and honey lemonade aren’t enough to draw you in, the abundant displays of squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes, green beans and pumpkins should catch your eye at the Grinnell Farmers’ Market.
The market has been a staple of community life for over 30 years. Located in Central Park, on Broad St. between 4th and Commercial, the market opens Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. It is a producers’ market, and the 20 to 30 vendors grow everything they bring each week. The market attracts Grinnellians and out-of-towners alike. It is one of the largest farmers’ markets in the surrounding area.
“[It’s] a great venue for that fresh Iowa-grown produce and those wonderful baked goods that you may not find in other establishments,” said Sheryl Parmley of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce.
The market’s goods vary from season to season and depend largely on weather. Dave DeVilder, a Farmers’ Market regular since 2004, expressed the challenges he faced this year raising crops in overwhelming heat and with almost no rain.
“We had to irrigate everything this year,” DeVilder said. “Every row had a valve with a drip taped on it, so when we needed water we’d turn it on and six to twelve hours later we’d turn it off.”
This season’s extreme heat “definitely took a toll” on the number of customers, Parmley said. Nevertheless, she said the market is “going strong, and we’ll have a good number of vendors back for the 2013 season.”
Returning vendors are one aspect that makes the market so unique. Marsha Atkinson is back selling vegetables for the 18th year in a row. The market is “a good source of locally grown fresh produce,” Atkinson said. “You can’t go to the grocery store and buy something that was picked that morning.”
Her booth displays green beans, summer squash, baby cucumbers and tiny golden-red cherry tomatoes. “All my tomatoes are smaller than normal this year. Even though you water, it’s not the same as rain,” she said.
Vendors also face the challenge of selling all the produce they bring to the market by the end of the day.
“There’s more and more competition,” DeVilder said, especially now that people are gardening at home. “In ’05-’07 we just took home empty boxes at the end of the day.”
DeVilder said that, aside from the grapes, tomatoes and squash he regularly sells to the College’s Dining Services, he has lately been doing the same with excess produce from the Farmers’ Market.
But the market is not limited to fruits, vegetables or baked goods. David and Sally Mills sell “Doctor Scrubs Organic All Purpose Cleaner,” a locally made, 100 percent natural cleaning solution. Everything in the solution “came from the ground,” and the couple claims the liquid cleaner once removed a tar stain from a dress after 26 years. This is their third year selling Doctor Scrubs at the market.
“It’s been a great outlet for us. We’re not a big business, so this has been a good place for word of mouth. It gets better and better every year,” said David Mills.
From fresh bread to summer squash, houseplants to local crafts, the Grinnell Farmer’s Market is a tradition, and, as Parmley put it, “something that Grinnell needs. We don’t ever want it to go away.”