Today, we are continuing our series of farmers market interviews with Nathan and Michelle Howell of Community Farmers Market in Bowling Green. This new producer-only market places a special emphasis on building community through innovative programs. I am really excited to share with you some of the fun and different things they are doing!
SK: What factors motivated you and the others who helped you to start a farmers market?
CFM: “We were beginning to see changes in the local food system coming from a national, state, and local level. New people were hearing that healthy eating should become a priority and many were learning that local food might be the best way to achieve this. The founding members of Community Farmers Market sought the opportunity of partnering with Western Kentucky University to begin a new farmers market in a high traffic area with great visibility. This site also has a great indoor market location that can hold over 60 vendors as well as plenty of parking space and future potential for a permanent structure. Combine that with a location that could serve underserved populations and we were convinced!”
“A few of us farmers saw this as a wonderful opportunity but none of us had ever started or managed a farmers market and we weren’t sure we would succeed. Together with enthusiastic community volunteers at our side we took the plunge. I enjoyed how we supported each other absolutely through the birth of the market and I’m proud to say that the market has exceeded our expectations by far. Now we are so much more than a farmers market, we are a community hub of local food and crafters and each week our market is as much about the friendships with our dedicated customers and each other as it is about making a sale.” ~Martin Stone, founding member of Community Farmers Market
SK: Can you give us a brief overview of the steps you took to start your market?
CFM: “From the very beginning it was important to us that all decisions were made as a group. The core group developed committees of members to make decisions about marketing, logistics, market set up, financial issues, etc. This system has worked very well for the group and has allowed members to share the duties of the market and get involved in a place where they are gifted. We also sought partnerships with local agencies such as the City School System, Western Kentucky University (Office of Sustainability, Student Organizations, ALIVE Center), Warren County Extension Service, I Heart BG, and the Interfaith Coalition on Earth Care who already had systems and programs in place. We’ve learned that while it does take more effort to collaborate with other agencies it really is more efficient in reaching people with the same mission of eating healthy foods and supporting local businesses.”
SK: You really have a passion for community. Tell us what’s different about Community Farmers Market and why you think community is an essential part of a successful farmers market.
CFM: “From the beginning we have been saying that we are ‘more than just a farmers market.’ Farmers Markets are familiar to people who are looking for local food, but we see the ability for local food to go way beyond that and to reach every person in our community. We quickly realized that cost, transportation, education, and a busy lifestyle were the barriers to people purchasing local food. While it is a challenge we believe that it is something we can achieve through partnerships. Through partnerships with local organizations we have been able to reach the community more efficiently. We have been invited to speak and set up at local events, assist with community gardens, partner on refugee food projects, host a “salsa workshop” at a Hispanic church, implement an “Eat Local” Breastfeeding tote bag campaign, pursue WIC Farmers Market vouchers, partner with the WKU Sustainability Gardens to get customers hands-on experience, host on-site chef tables, and assist agencies in spreading their “campaigns” on healthy foods. We hope to see these partnerships flourish over the next couple of years and believe that the entire community will benefit from it. It started with farmer and will end with farmers as they increase their sales and marketing abilities.”
“Within this community, I find my faith in uncommon ways. One farmer sets aside a goofily shaped tomato that he knows I will love. Another has a ‘handful’ of a new bean I’m scared to try. Yet another shows me her craft, saying, I made this and thought of you. This is my community, this is my planet, and I’m proud to be part of it. Kentucky proud, in fact.” ~Dana Bennet, WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator (and un-vendor) at Community Farmers Market
SK: Tell us about your Third Thursday Farm Days! This sounds like such a fun idea and a great way to really connect farmer to consumer.
CFM: “We are a producer-only market and from the very beginning our vendors and customers have agreed that it would be a lot of fun to visit the farms together through farm days and open houses so that we can all see where the food sold at market is grown. Third Thursday Farm Days are a way for customers to visit the farms where their food is grown, visiting farmers learns new skills in order to expand their own operations, and the entire community can enjoy good food and conversation together. The farm days have become a very important and exciting element of what Community Farmers Market is about!”
“Community Farmers’ Market has hosted several round table discussions and farm tours that have provided a place for farmers, schools, and other buyers to connect and make plans for future seasons.” ~Kimberly Simpson, Bowling Green City Schools
Third Thursday Farm Days Video:
SK: What about some of the other programs you offer?
CFM: “We offer local chef tables every other week. It’s a great way for our customers to learn easy, quick ways to prepare healthy local foods. The chefs come with salt, pepper, and oil then they shop the market and whip up the most delicious foods. Customers are amazed and the farmers who provide the foods always see an increase in sales.”
“Customers are able to witness us cooking up easy, healthy meals and then they can sample them. It’s been a huge motivator to get customers to branch out and try new items. I’ve been able to encourage other chefs in the community participate in the chef table and they are seeing the benefits as well.” Josh Poling, Chef and owner of HOME Cafe’ & Marketplace
CFM: “On alternating Saturdays we offer ‘Make Your Own’ workshops where customers volunteer to come and share a skill they have with others. A few examples have been ‘Plarn Yarn Bags,’ Make Your Own Self Care Products (toothpaste, deodorant, etc), fabric flowers, recycled gift wrap, wool dryer balls, and terrariums. It’s become a great way for a group of people to gather under the Market Booth and put their fingers to work. Great conversations, friendships and “un-vendors” have come out of these workshops. We were recently awarded the ‘Discover You Can’ grant from Farmers Market Coalition and Ball Brand Fresh Preserving Products to do canning demonstrations at the market and in the community. We look forward to incorporating these into our chef tables since we get questions about canning all the time. We also plan on bringing these demonstrations out into the community and doing demo’s at schools, boys/girls club, and refugee centers.”
SK: You collect items for compost. Has that been a successful program so far? What happens with the compost that is made from items gathered at the market?
CFM: “Jordan and Jackson, a couple with a passion for sustainability and local food, asked us if they could become involved as un-vendors at the market. They quickly recognized that a lot of our customers live in apartments near the market and do not have a way to compost themselves. They have committed to collecting compost brought to the market; taking it home to compost and bringing it back next year to sell. The proceeds of the compost will benefit our refugee voucher/CSA program.”
“Composting was a way for Jordan and I to get more involved with the Community Farmers Market. There are some environmentally sustainable practices that people who live in the city—particularly those who live in apartments—are simply unable to do. Personally, we have been there before and it is frustrating to have to throw away perfectly good organic material. For those who are unable to compost for whatever reason, we provide a means for them to dispose of their food waste in an environmentally conscious fashion. Collecting compost from market goers not only diverts food waste from our landfills, but also returns valuable nutrients back to the soil. It also provides us with enough organic material to learn more about the process of composting itself. We hope to “close the loop” by bringing the finished compost back next year for market goers to use in their own gardens. It is important that we return to the soil what we take from it.” ~Jackson Rollett
SK: What exactly is an “un-vendor”?
CFM: “From the very first day we were open as a market we have had members of the community who want to support what we stand for and what we are trying to achieve. Many of these community members have jobs working with the underserved or a desire to learn how to eat more healthy foods. The rest are members of the community who are new to farmers markets and college students. Each week we realized that they were coming early to help vendors set up their booths or watching their booths while they took a lunch or restroom break. As the market progressed they were helping us at the Market Booth, handing out trees for Earth Day, and even helping us put out signs. Brittany Ryan, a WKU graduate student has volunteered to do all of our WIC Farmers Market Voucher trainings for farmers. One of our most loyal un-vendors, Dana Bennett works for the Allen County Health Department and is supportive of our market and the strong network of young families who shop there. She coined the term un-vendor and even made everyone buttons to wear!”
SK: What has been the biggest struggle to overcome as a new farmers market?
CFM: “Because our partnership with the WKU location was made very late in the 2011 season we were placed on a back lot without very good drive by traffic. It was a challenge to explain to people where we were located, especially being a new market. This year we have been moved to a prime spot and have learned that drive by traffic makes all the difference in the world! Our numbers are rising every week and we have a lot of new faces each week as well.”
Opening Day Video:
SK: What do you think has been the biggest help to growing your market?
CFM: “We realized the benefit in reaching people where they are. We have done this by going out into the community and setting up mobile markets. This has helped us reach customers that may not be familiar with local food or who thought it wasn’t for them because of their current eating choices, cost or transportation issues. We have also seen the benefits of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. This is where people get their information these days and we have taken advantage of getting the message out in this way. At the same time we have seen the benefit of print advertisements, TV interviews, and posters as well. I guess you could say that we are diversifying our advertising campaign to its full potential (or not putting all of our eggs in one basket)!”
SK: Do you have any advice for folks wanting to start a farmers market in their area?
CFM: “Look at your community and evaluate the needs there. We have three Kroger’s and three farmers markets in Bowling Green. It’s been interesting to see how each market seems to reflect the restaurants, stores, and groceries that are nearby. We have taken great care in understanding the customers who live, work, and drive by our location. We are also continuing our mission of being “More Than Just a Farmers Market” and looking at ways for our farmers to expand sales outside of the Saturday and Tuesday market days. Ultimately, we want our farmers to be successful and many of them have the goal of farming full time or simply staying on their farm! CSA’s, Restaurant Sales, WIC/EBT, Refugee/Immigrant programs and other direct marketing are all avenues that our market hopes to open up for farmers in our area.”
“When the farmers get to know your face AND your name, they know your baby, and your husband by name as well, or ask why they aren’t there. They know what you’re after, they stop and chat, and they make you feel like you are the VIP of the market. The way that the farmers also know each other, if one is out of something to point you to another booth that may have it, or to suggest looking at a particular goods table that they think you might be interested in. They are interested in your well-being, your family, and the community in which we live. This is why I love going, this is why I tell everyone I know about it, and this is why I’m passionate about eating local and getting to know local farmers and those who produce goods in our area.” ~Suzy Brewer, Community Farmers Market Customer
Connect with Community Farmers Market:
Visit CFM in Bowling Green at the “Old Mall” at the intersection of Campbell Lane and Nashville Road.
Connect with Nathan & Michelle Howell, owners of Need More Acres Farm
Need More Acres, in conjunction with Community Farmers Market and several other sponsors, will be hosting an Heirloom Tomato Fest on July 19th. Visit their site for more info and stay tuned to the blog—we will be running a fun contest in promotion of the event soon!