The Vermillion Area Farmer’s Market, herein referred to as ‘the Market’, has been in existence for over 10 years, but has never been solidified and consistent. Locations have been in various parking lots, in alleys and at the very beginning had a short stay at the 4-H grounds. Vendors have numbered 1-15, with varying regularity. The community of Vermillion hosts: the County Courthouse, the University of South Dakota, various industries, and many large scale grain farmers; altogether the community boasts of a population of approximately 13,000 people. Two years ago a bridge was constructed to span the Missouri River, which now connects Vermillion with Nebraska.
Vendors range from organic vegetable producers, to beef and chicken producers, to various crafters. The Market over the past seven years has focused on Homemade/Homegrown products.
The Market needed an infusion of a lump sum of money to organize itself and to establish itself as a part of the community. Interest was apparent from consumers and vendors. We needed to establish a permanent, highly visible location, attract attention from the town, involve new producers, find insurance, and develop an advertising plan. The grant from SARE provided this and the Market is ready to become self sustaining in Clay County.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Upon receipt of the grant and announcement of a planning meeting, new faces came out of the woodwork. This was a vital step in the first goal of the grant, which was: to develop a solid footing for the Market. Amazing farmers, gardeners, and crafters came with ideas and desire to be an integral part of the Market’s foundation. We had six meetings over the first winter in preparation for the 2003 season, and numerous email discussions. One vital member was, April Borders, the new Clay County Extension Officer. The meetings led to a decision on the location of the Famer’s Market (another of the grant proposal’s goals). The decision was made to have the Market at the 4-H grounds. This was a successful location, though there was a push amongst a few members to relocate downtown. A debate amongst the group, and then with the community, ensued. Finally, we decided upon, and were granted permission, to close off a downtown street for the 2004 season. The street borders the County courthouse. This location seems very promising. Time will tell as the Market gets established, but already the vendor ship has increased to 10 dedicated vendors. Positive feedback was received from customers who liked the proximity to the local coffee shop and the shade trees.
The Market decided to gain nonprofit status and incorporate an educational component in our mission, along with providing an avenue for local producers to market local products. This leads into another goal of the project which is to increase organic production in the area. The educational component at this point consists of three aspects: Master Gardener Q&A booth at the Market, with emphasis on alternative pest control, companion planting, and xeriscaping; sponsoring an annual lecture on sustainable agriculture; and a 4-H youth scholarship program to encourage youth involvement in the Market. Through education on sustainable agriculture we anticipate a growth in regional organic operations.
Other goals attained through the grant are addressed now. Insurance was bought to protect the Market entity. An application and rules and regulations information sheet were drawn up with the help of the Extension agent. These outline the vendor’s responsibilities, including the need to have their own liability insurance. Advertising was a main goal of the grant. A USD student run graphic group designed a logo for us. A banner for continuous advertising was acquired, and street signs constructed. More frequent and effective newspaper ads were purchased in local circulars. Flyers were developed and distributed. Many opportunities for free advertisements were secured. T shirts with the Farmer’s Market logo were printed up and sold to consumers and special vendor shirts were made and sold at cost to vendors. A local printing press offered discounts and some free printing for flyers. A big part of advertising came with the First Annual Farmer’s Market Fundraiser. A Dinner/Dance and Silent Auction was held in spring of 2004. This served to really rally support through community donations. Entertainment is also a goal of the Market, a stage was constructed and funds were made available for musicians to come play monthly at the Market. Supplies, including paper, stamps, Market table, umbrella, a scale, and various other business items were purchased and are kept in storage by the Market manager. Each season a Market representative will use items to distribute Market information or to aid Market vendors. The last two goals: increasing the number of vendors and increasing market attendance, went hand in hand. Each season we were treated to new and interesting vendors. Many vendors were repeat vendors from 2003, and the downtown location gave us more traffic and more customers. We look forward to viewing the Market five years from now to see how it has grown. The most rewarding part of the project is to see the new found dedication of vendors and customers alike to make the Farmer’s Market a success.
The project served to open the minds of the community on what a Farmer’s Market is and how it can have a positive impact on the county as a whole. The Farmer’s Market is an event that brings together a mixture of people. It helps to keep money in the community. This is a new concept for many in this area. We ran into resistance to the idea that a Farmer’s Market has a more of a purpose than vendors trying to make as much money as possible and adding nothing to the community in return. We are making progress in this area, which the educational component of the Market will address in a lasting way. We feel good about the direction the Market is heading. There has been a broad base of support for the Market, most notably from the new Mayor of Vermillion. There have been several new organic growers, and one vendor that expanded their small organic garden into a large scale organic production. A few conventional farmers have added a Market garden to their farms. All of this is very encouraging; we fell positive about the grant’s success.
Our outreach has occurred in numerous ways. First we developed a groups of dedicated vendors that participated in meetings and the development of the Market. Second, we formed alliances with the Master Gardeners and the 4-H club. We successfully put on a spring fling fundraiser in 2004, and have a desire to have an annual Harvest Fundraiser. We, also, want to create an annual Speaker’s Bureau, with a focus on Sustainable Agriculture. The 4-H program is very exciting to us. We hope to have essay contests on sustainable agriculture, and also promote youth involvement in the Market as vendors.