The Farmers’ Market re-opens

The+Farmers+Market+re-opens

Atreyo Ghosh

The Columbia Farmers' Market uses the area by West Junior High school and the ARC for booths weekly. Photo by Daphne Yu
The Columbia Farmers’ Market uses the area by West Junior High school and the ARC for booths weekly. Photo by Daphne Yu

Throughout the winter snow pummeled the  the Activity and Recreation Center parking lot, where farmers once regaled vegetables. Where chatter once filled the warm air blew icy winds. Where vendors happily exchanged fresh goods rested black slush. Tomorrow, April 6, all this will change when the ARC parking lot once again holds one of the Columbia Farmers’ Markets.

Preparations started in January, at the membership meeting, where vendors voted for the board of directors. Later on, in February, the members approved the budget, and in March, management held the annual stall lottery, which, Americorps Vista and market manager Laurel Goodman said, can be a difficult task: the total number of vendors is greater than the number of available spaces. However, not every vendor goes to the market each week.

“The market manager has a pretty difficult task of organizing everyone and making sure everyone who wants to come to the market that week has a spot to sell. Some vendors who have enough seniority at the farmers’ market have what’s called an annual stall, and they pay a little bit of extra money every year to have a stall that’s in the same place every single week,” Goodman said. “Some of the other vendors that don’t have as much seniority just come in each week, and they’re just placed at the discretion of the market manager … there are eight stalls that have [become] available this year, so at the stall lottery on Tuesday, some people who have been working up their seniority the last few years will have the opportunity to purchase one of those annual stalls.”

Goodman has been market manager for the last few months. The market manager must organize the stalls such that no one produce is predominant in an area, since the vendors are in direct competition for sales, and place the stalls strategically so the public ideally sees many vendors on the way to high-desired produce such as sweet corn and peaches.

With the recent hiring of a new market manager, Goodman will shift back into a public relations and marketing role. She hopes to pilot a new program aimed at encouraging kids to come to the market and will continue to write a “Vendor of the Week” spotlight. Goodman is one of “three and a half” paid employees at the market in addition to the six members on the board of directors, all of whom are dealing with “housekeeping-type” work to prepare for the market: reviewing new applications, writing grants, inspecting farms and preparing the area.

“Our market is a producer only market, so we really are very clear with our vendors and the public that the produce at the Columbia Farmers’ Market is produced by the farmers who are selling it,” Goodman said. “So [to make] sure that no reselling is going on, we check the produce auctions in the area on a regular basis, to make sure none of our farmers names are coming up on those purchase lists, because that’s a pretty big deal.”

Among those farmers is junior Zach Mavrakis, who, alongside his older brother, sold produce at the ARC market last year. The duo made around $2,000 last year, their first year. In preparation for this season, Mavrakis and his brother plan on planting their recently-obtained seeds in their greenhouse and transplanting when it’s warmer. The two grow tomatoes, beans, onions, cucumbers and zucchini, among other vegetables, which they take to the market to sell.

“Everything that you’ve worked for is pretty much on the table, and you can see how it shows up,” Mavrakis said. “The customers are really nice. We see new faces every day, but generally, we get to see people over and over, and it’s a great socializing network … [Farming] just gives you a chance to do the things that you really want to do by yourself.”

Mavrakis and his brother started farming by drawing inspiration from their grandparents, who have a larger farm. They liked how their grandfather worked and wanted to emulate him. Going to the farmers’ market with the produce was not only a good source of income, but “gives you something to do” during the summer. The atmosphere of the market itself is really friendly, Mavrakis said.

“Everyone has their tents all lined up, and all the customers walk down the middle and they get to pick and choose what they like in your stand or whoever else’s stand,” Mavrakis said. “It feels good to see what other people think of your work and stuff.”

The farmers’ markets typically have live music, and the venue at the ARC is certainly no exception. Senior Ian Meyer is a busker, or live-music performer, at farmers’ markets, and describes it as “a lot of fun,” and the live music is, Meyer said, something the farmers really like to have. He gets to have fun and watch people having fun.

“I sit down and wherever they want me, [take out] my acoustic guitar and play some folk for everybody,” Meyer said. “It’s a pretty casual environment.”

In addition to tips, which he collects in a fishbowl, Meyer gets produce donations from the farmers at the end of the day, which he says is even better than the tips.

“It’s just like — groceries, money and it was fun, so there’s no reason I wouldn’t do it. Even if I don’t make a lot of money, I always walk home with some produce and knowing that I’ve helped someone out, so it’s cool by me,” Meyer said. “Just to know that I can keep the farmers entertained while they’re setting up stands and doing some great work — I respect farmers huge[ly]. It’s kind of nice that I can give that to them.”

To prepare for the upcoming market, Meyer will be working on scheduling the gigs and practicing his craft. He intends to get a varied collection of folk and a lot of songs together for the farmers to enjoy at the market.

Both Meyer and Goodman believe the farmers’ market fits in with Columbia’s unique atmosphere, and in Goodman’s case, believes it even develops the atmosphere further. The “sheer size” of the farmers’ market proves that to her.

“A market doesn’t have the ability to grow that much if the community doesn’t support it,” Goodman said. “… with the urban center coming about in the middle of all the farmland, people still have that direct connection with farmers and the rural areas. A lot of the people that live here are from those places or have family there or know what it is to be a farmer and know how hard farming life is, so I think there is a meaningful appreciation for the lifestyle that these people still lead and [who] are growing our foods so [that] we can live the lifestyle that we do here.”

Meyer believes the farmers’ market facilitates an already-existing blend of the rural and urban lifestyles and cultures present in Columbia. To Meyer, this blend is what describes Columbia.

“We have that combination of that small-town, rural honesty and integrity, but we also have the development and progressive ideas of a developing city, which really makes this nice blend between the two,” Meyer said, “ because of course, when you have both of them separately, both can go awry. Too much progression and you kind of forget your roots, but too much roots and you never go anywhere, so we have this great combination of the two, that makes Columbia a place I really, really love.”
By Atreyo Ghosh