by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC Value-Added Local Foods Program
The Old Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield kicked off the 2016 season two weeks ago under expanded leadership and with new policies aimed at growing the market and better serving the vendors and market shoppers. The market runs bi-weekly on Wednesdays from 2- 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Adams Street and 4th Street.
Lisa Stott, executive director of Downtown Springfield Incorporated (DSI), inherited the farmers market with her new position last year. As she listened to the market vendors, she heard repeatedly the desire for a bigger and better market to attract more customers.
Lisa explains how this led to a partnership with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Generation Healthy Kids (genHkids). “When I assessed DSI’s capability to staff and grow the market, I knew that our small staff wouldn’t be able to expand the offerings on our own. So I looked at potential non-profit partners whose missions are closely aligned with the market. Partnering with these two particular organizations who work every day to increase local foods and who already had a stake in the success of this market made a lot of sense.”
The Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s responsibilities include managing the vendors and setting market policies, and for being on site each market to assist vendors and market patrons. The Illinois Stewardship Alliance has a 40-year history of working for farmers on a state-wide level through policy development, advocacy and education, and are recognized across Illinois for their comprehensive understanding of the issues faced by farmers, making them a perfect fit for the farmers market.
genHkids will organize the educational outreach for the market which will include yoga classes, chef and art demonstrations, theater performances, musical acts and programs to help educate families on growing and cooking healthy foods. The market will host the Springfield Children’s Business Fair on June 11 featuring products and services dreamed up and developed by kids ages 8-15.
Several new market policies were established this year to meet the growing interests among consumers to trace their food from farm to plate. “Market shoppers typically expect that the food they are buying at the farmers market was grown or raised by the person selling the products,” said Molly Gleason, communications director at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. “For this reason, new rules for market participation were put into place to better ensure that consumers are in fact supporting the farmers in our community and keeping money circulating in our community while reconnecting consumers with their food.”
The Illinois Stewardship Alliance will conduct on-farm inspections for each vendor at the market to determine that what they are selling is grown on their farm. Farmers can sell products from other farms, but the product has to be labeled so that consumers know where it comes from, and the product has to be registered with the market management to be inspected. Without this oversight, vendors in the past have purchased products on the wholesale market in other states or from grocery stores which may be sourced from anywhere in the world.
For management purposes, vendors are now labeled into three categories – producer, local food and complimentary. Producers grow or raise their own food like a mixed vegetable farmer. Local food vendors sell products made from Illinois grown foods such as jarred salsa made from local peppers. Complimentary vendors sell products that can’t be grown or raised in Illinois. An example is coffee grown in Africa and then roasted locally by the producer selling it at the market. Eighty percent of the vendors must come from the producer or local food vendor category and 20 percent of the vendors can be complimentary. This effort is designed to meet consumer demand for locally grown food that supports economic growth for our community, and keeps the focus on the farmers.
The most visible change for 2016 is moving the Wednesday market to the late afternoon. The time shift targets the time when most people typically shop for groceries. A state employee who works downtown exclaimed, “I love the move to the afternoon. I didn’t have enough time to shop the market during my morning break in previous years, but last week I was able to go after work and then meet friends for a drink at a nearby restaurant.” This is exactly what market organizers hope for – more people enjoying downtown businesses. According to Farmers Market Coalition, a series of case studies by Civic Economics shows that for every dollar we spend at a large chain, about 15 cents stays in the area, while locally owned enterprises like farms trap 30 to 45 cents.
The changes have been welcome by shoppers and farmers alike. Only one vendor from last year dropped out of the market due to the new regulations requiring local food products to include 50 percent of the ingredients from local sources. Overall vendor numbers increased by 10 percent above last year, demonstrating the growth of the local food movement and the commitment of area farmers to meet rising consumer expectations.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.