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West market off to positive start

May 7th, 2010 · No Comments · Farmers markets, local food

[updated with photos]

Opening day for Thursday market of Lawrence Farmers Market

After years of planning and debate, the Lawrence Farmers Market on Thursday opened its first true west-side market to a warm welcome.

Vendor Carolyn Slawson (the silhouette at left, above) said, “The comment heard most from the customers was ‘Thank you for coming west,’” and she added, “As a vendor I felt appreciated and welcomed.”

Good news

My sister Lori, who lives a little more than a half-mile from the market on the southwest corner of Sixth & Wakarusa (and who shot the photos you see here—thanks, Lori!), was among the enthusiastic customers. She reported that not only was there a good crowd but also that lots of people were walking to the market and bringing their children. In a part of town where motor transport is almost necessary, this was big news. For those of us interested in our society’s long-term health and well-being, it’s very positive news indeed.

Jane Wohletz attends to customers

Lori gushed about the fragrance and flavor of Jane Wohletz’s strawberries (at right; click for larger version) which drew a crowd at the market, but Lori worried that less market-savvy neighbors might not realize that the number of vendors (there were about a dozen) will grow as the season progresses and vendors have more products to sell. She worried, in short, that the market might not succeed because customers wouldn’t patronize the market enough.

I’m not particularly worried, for several reasons. Key among them:

  • News of the high quality of the growers’ produce will spread, and people will come back for more, even if they are initially disappointed in the size of the market. There’s a contingent of more than 20 vendors signed up to sell on the west side. Just give them a little time.
  • The market addresses issues that have frustrated west-side families about the downtown markets. Specifically, it’s at a time that doesn’t compete with their children’s Saturday-morning sports activities; it’s close to where they live; and there’s easy access and plenty of parking.
  • Although it’s doubtful, at least for the time being, to attain the festive atmosphere of the Saturday market, the Thursday market is likely to attract shoppers who rarely go downtown on Saturday mornings and who, therefore, aren’t expecting the west market to be the same as the Saturday market.

A little background

I understand Lori’s concerns, though. A few years ago, the market tried a market on Wednesdays outside the Community Mercantile. That market lasted only one season.

This new market is different in several ways.

  • westSMIt’s farther away. It’s about five miles from the downtown markets compared with the one-mile distance between the Merc’s location at 9th & Iowa streets and the downtown markets. The greater distance means it really will draw from a fresh pool of potential customers.
  • It’s moving, not adding, a weekday market. The sales outside the Merc were on Wednesdays, and the Lawrence Farmers Market continued its Tuesday and Thursday sales. Three consecutive weekday markets spread the growers’ product and time thin.
  • It can capture commuters. Situated along a key route for people who commute to Topeka, the new Thursday market will be able to attract customers who can’t make it downtown on weekdays. (Click map for larger version, or go to Google map.)

You never know

Market vendors weren’t unanimous in their desire to open the Thursday market. Some worried about offending people who used to frequent the Thursday market downtown. A few, I suspect, are not keen on any change. And you never know; vendors could lose enthusiasm as the season progresses, just as they did the Wednesday market.

Still, I don’t think the risk of this market failing is a fraction of the risk farmers take every time they put a seed in the ground. If you live in the vicinity of the market, though, I do hope you will check it out. I’m on the market’s board, but I am not a vendor, so my only “dog in the fight” is the one that believes in supporting local producers, in the value of eating the fresh food that they sell and in the community benefits of a healthy local food system.

Carolyn didn’t sound worried about the market’s prospects. She said she is “looking forward to rest of the season at this site,” and market coordinator Tom Buller said, “I thought the Thursday market went well.  It was really busy from 4-5 and seemed to me to draw a really diverse crowd.” I know I’m eager to see how it works out. And one of these days, I’ll get out there to take a look for myself.

Let me know what you think. And if you have suggestions for making any of the markets better, speak up!

Girl tries out beekeeper's head gear

Is that my niece in there? No bees in her bonnet!

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