Making the most of the Market

The Allen County Farmers Market is looking to recover from a pandemic-related attendance drop by offering special events to recognize groups like the military, first responders and teachers. They've also expanded to four markets, adding one in Moran.

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July 1, 2022 - 1:31 PM

Members of the Kansas Army National Guard 35th Infantry Division Band perform at Thursday’s Allen County Farmers Market on the east side of the downtown square. The Market celebrated Military Appreciation Night. Photo by Vickie Moss

As the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, a military band filled the air with music at the Allen County Farmers Market on Thursday.

It was a festive atmosphere, with patriotic tunes as well as instrumental versions of more popular modern songs.

Nearby, a representative with the Veterans Administration answered questions. Veterans received gift certificates to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables and more. 

Phil Ebert, with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, walked through the crowd with a handful of poppies, handing them out as he collected donations. 

It was the kind of evening Rachel Boyd envisioned when she took over as director of the Farmers Market.

“Market attendance has been lower than it was pre-COVID,” she said. “We’re trying to boost attendance, and give recognition to groups of people who work hard to protect us all.”

This past week, that meant the military.

Prior to that, the Market honored first responders.

In August, they’ll celebrate teachers. 

On Aug. 5, the Allen County Multi-Agency Team will offer health and safety information to local children for the annual Family Safety Night.

“We’ve got a lot of special events happening,” Boyd said. 

It’s all about boosting the local economy and helping residents make healthy choices, she said. 

“The more people come to the Farmers Market, the more money is kept local. It goes to local crafters and local farmers, not corporations.”

A booth by Heck Farms, which sells sweet corn and other produce, typically is one of the most popular at the Allen County Farmers Market on Thursday. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

THE FARMERS Market took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. 

Restrictions including social distancing, face masks and sanitization requirements kept crowds low. 

This year, a cautious nation is starting to emerge back into the public realm.

That means attendance at the Farmers Market is greater than the past two years, but still not quite up to pre-COVID levels. 

“People still aren’t totally comfortable leaving their homes and being around the public,” Boyd said.

To encourage attendance, the Market has made several changes while staying true to its core mission to provide homegrown and homemade goods and services. 

The result has been special events, such as the appreciation nights. Whichever group is honored will need to present some form of identification that proves affiliation, in order to obtain a gift certificate. 

Live music, entertainment and booths by local organizations typically are featured, as well.

Organizers also expanded the Market to include a site at Moran, giving residents a fourth option twice a month in addition to three weekly options.

Thursday evening’s Market on the east side of the square in Iola is the largest and most popular. It runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

On Tuesdays, the Market is set up on State Street near the new Westco building, from 1 to 3:30 p.m.

On Saturday mornings, a Market is offered in downtown Humboldt from 8 to 11 a.m.

The newest location is at the Marmaton Market in Moran, every second and fourth Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

“We’re slowly gaining momentum there,” Boyd said. “It’s not as big, but we have some really good vendors there. It’s a new market, so it will take time.”

Lela Hurlock of Gas, left, and Nancy Toland of Iola donate to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and receive a poppy to wear in apprecation, from Phil Ebert. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

THEY’RE NOT done yet, though.

Organizers have big plans for the future.

Ideally, they’d like to expand to a brick-and-mortar store that would allow the Farmers Market to operate year-round.

To make that happen, the Market will need even more support, Boyd said. She’s hoping to find a grant or funding that would help. 

“We would need enough vendors to keep it supplied, and enough attendance to prove to a grant committee that we need it,” she said.

EDUCATION and awareness are key to keeping the markets viable.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of all the payment options we have,” she said. 

That includes Vision, SNAP, Kansas Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (KSFMNP) vouchers, the Double Up Food Bucks Program, cash and debit or credit cards.

In particular, Boyd encourages SNAP participants to take advantage of the Double Up Food Bucks program. For every dollar spent, participants will get another dollar in tokens to use at the market.

Simply come to the information booth in the center of the market, present your SNAP card, tell the clerk how much you plan to spend and get double the tokens. 

“People think it’s a lot more complicated than it is,” Boyd said.

“But it’s so easy.”

The Market receives funding from the Health Forward Foundation. Charitable donations also can be made through Your Community Foundation.

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