By Tim Brelig and Kellie Diamond, skyfarmersmarket.com
Thursday, August 16th, 2012 10:00 AM CST
Nine years ago, in the summer of 2003, a group of farmers and others got together to organize a new farmers market in Bowling Green. Several of the farmers had been selling at other farmers markets, some had no market and all were ready for a different experience.
The group had several objectives in mind:
One was to make the market open to any Kentucky farmer. Since Bowling Green was a hub for purchasing for the residents of surrounding counties, it seemed only “fair” for farmers in surrounding counties to be able to sell their product in the city.
The second was to make the market for producers only. Many existing markets allowed re-selling which meant the vendor didn’t necessarily need to be raising all their produce. Some undefinable percentage could be from any wholesaler and often was. This was a problem for both farmers and customers. It was and is difficult, at best, for a farmer to compete with the variety and quantity of produce that can be purchased from a wholesale outlet. More importantly, consumers had no way to know where or how any of the produce being sold was grown or when it was harvested.
The third was to open the market to more farm raised products than just vegetables and fruits. So, a farmer could sell whatever he was raising – beef, chicken, pork, milk, etc., as long as it was legally processed.
And, the group thought it would be nice to have some crafters as well to make a more balanced group of vendors and add interest to our market – something missing at the time from the markets we knew.
Finally, and of huge importance to everyone, was to make the market a community of farmers and customers. A place everyone felt good about. A place folks wanted to be on Market Day. The group recognized that “community” is lacking in so many lives today, and thought a new, friendly, more open Farmers Market could bring some of that to Bowling Green.
It was quite a laundry list! And, being a “new” idea in Kentucky, there wasn’t a lot of information available. So, we looked at models of markets that had similar goals, downloaded some representative paperwork and got started. With the help of several patient experts in law, finance and other disciplines, we spent the winter working on our vision. It was especially helpful to have folks other than just farmers on the steering committee. Often, the farmers were pretty sure they knew what THEY wanted in a market, but if it wasn’t good for consumers, it wouldn’t be successful and our non-farmer members gave us that viewpoint.
So, through the winter, we met, discussed, created, and modified our defining documents. To keep everyone “honest”, we decided to inspect the farms and businesses (and still do). The inspections give our market the assurance of calling ourselves “producer only” as rules without enforcement rarely work (how many drivers would obey posted speed limits if there were no cops?). But just as important, they give us as farmers the opportunity to see other operations, get to know the farmers better, and build friendships. Finally, in early 2004, we felt we were ready.
We set a date for opening, and started recruiting farmers and reaching customers. When we opened on a beautiful sunny April 17th, 2004, we had about 12 vendors in attendance! That year, our membership roster included 31 members. Some never attended (happens every year), some attended a few times and decided it just wasn’t for them, but a significant number came every week, rain or shine and the market prospered. We had live music, a variety of produce, baked goods, beautiful plants and some gorgeous crafts. What a difference! For the farmers and the customers, the producer only model was working.
Over the last 9 seasons, we have had trials and made changes. We have made some mistakes as all businesses do, have had some wonderful successes, and we continue to improve. In 2011, we had over 40 members with most of them active the entire season. We had 11 counties represented! We have given a stable, fair market to farmers and small business owners from the entire region.
And, we have built that “community.” Our customers and farmers come to market days to buy and sell product, of course. But, we also come to enjoy each other’s company. After the winter of solitude, it is very exciting to again visit with all our friends.
So, that’s the “Why of SKY”. Come and join us at the corner of Fifth and High, in the Medical Center parking lot, on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 7am. We’ll look forward to seeing you!