Feature Article - April 2020
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Feed the People

Concessions, Food Trucks & Farmers Markets

By Dave Ramont

Adrienne Akers Partlow is the market manager for the Kokomo downtown farmers market in Kokomo, Ind., as well as being on the board of directors at FMC, and she mentioned another consideration: "Is there another market close by that would be negatively impacted by a new market? If so, is there a way to work with that market to host your market a different day or in a different way that might set it apart from existing markets while not harming those markets?"

Aside from fresh produce, there are many ways to attract attendees to your market, including educational offerings and cooking demonstrations, which Partlow said they do weekly using in-season produce. "I pick what the focus is and try to choose a fruit or vegetable that's a little bit outside the norm, or a kind of produce that everybody prepares the same way and we show a new way to prepare it." Many times Partlow has witnessed patrons getting a sample and the recipe and then going to purchase the ingredients, increasing vendor sales.

Partlow said their kids club is popular, and broadens their food horizons by giving them a different fruit or vegetable to try each week. "Last year, we challenged kids to eat at least one kind of produce for every color of the rainbow. We also issue $2 in Sprouts Bucks to every child that completes the weekly learning activity and participates in the taste test."

Farmers markets are social gatherings, and according to Partlow, people also love market entertainment as it creates a feeling of being at an event. "We've had a magician perform, a poetry slam, drum circles, belly dancers, cloggers and our civic theater performs songs from musicals they produce. Last year we hosted The Big Latch—an event to bring awareness about breastfeeding. We've had a beer garden with a local brewery and wine tastings too." Sometimes food trucks and a mobile coffeeshop take part. They've also hosted a pet parade and featured pet-focused vendors, offering adoptable pets from local shelters.

Farmers markets can also foster social equity, a key initiative of FMC, and Fenty explained that many more markets are accepting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. She shares USDA information showing that 7,377 farmers and farmers markets nationwide were authorized to accept SNAP benefits in 2017, more than double the number from 2012. "Many markets even offer doubling programs through government grants, meaning that SNAP recipients can get twice as much fresh food directly from farmers when they shop at these markets."

"Acceptance of these assistance programs helps our community and our vendors, so I don't really give vendors a choice on accepting SNAP, and I make it as easy as possible for them," said Partlow. "They can choose whether to accept WIC (Women, Infants & Children), but I try to influence their decision by bringing in a local WIC coordinator to speak at our yearly vendor meeting and she talks up the benefits of the program."

Farmers markets can also help bring fresh produce to so-called food deserts. For instance, Harvest Home Farmers Market Inc. is an organization working to bring markets to low-income New York City neighborhoods.

Eco-friendliness can be another byproduct of farmers markets. "Reducing plastic bags initiatives, composting and recycling education, and gleaning (donating unsold products to food banks) are some examples," said Fenty. "Not to mention—many of the farmers that sell at markets use sustainable agriculture practices which are much better for the environment."

According to Fenty, winter markets are becoming increasingly common. Partlow said Kokomo operated one for four years before replacing it with a permanent general store concept. "At the winter markets and during the winter at the store we have lots of bath and body and other handmade products, baked goods, meats, eggs, root veggies, potatoes, greens, onions and squash."

Communities can get creative with regard to generating extra revenue from their markets. "In addition to vendor fees, we offer merchandise for sale and host three yearly farm-to-fork fundraisers—a breakfast and lunch at the market and an off-site dinner at season's end," said Partlow. Studies in Iowa and Oklahoma showed that every dollar spent at farmers markets led to an additional $0.58 to $1.36 in sales at other nearby businesses. Plus, the vast majority of farmers buy supplies from local businesses. In Kokomo, all market vendors must grow, make or bake within 50 miles of Howard County.

Food has a way of bringing us together, and cities, parks and entertainment venues of all types are constantly evolving the ways that they use food to enhance our extracurricular activities. And like Orson Welles once said: "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what's for lunch." RM