Courier Staff Writer
The Market on Main project is slow going, but with input from area producers, growers, farmers and more, coordinators hope a more defined picture of the future marketplace will begin to take shape.
A group of 10 producers and growers and Ottumwa Property and Redevelopment Company members gathered at Hotel Ottumwa Thursday afternoon to discuss ideas for the marketplace slated to open next year.
Jan Swinton, local food coordinator for Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development, wanted to know how to make the market more farmer-friendly.
Chris Shaw, owner of Yummy Tummy Gardens north of Ottumwa, said he had envisioned a marketplace more along the lines of what Ankeny has planned by creating an open, covered pavilion with easy access all the way around.
He said that layout makes the marketplace more functional for producers.
“A lot of people want it more to be outside in a covered area so they can then pull their vehicle in and work from that,” said Barry Flint, president of OPRC (formerly Ottumwa Progress, Inc.).
Gene Kromray, a gardener in Ottumwa, said as long as producers can pull their vehicle in and set it up, they’ll be good to go.
OPRC’s former president, Tim Schwartz, said any leftovers from vendors at the farmers’ market could be carted in to be used in the marketplace or kitchen.
“The ideal scenario is to sell out,” Shaw said. “A lot of effort goes into getting prepared for that market and it’s great to see it all sell.”
Charles Newton, owner of Newton’s Own in Bloomfield, cautioned against putting the farmers’ market indoors.
“Trying to put the market inside might take away from the summer months, but putting stuff in there for around-the-year access is a whole other ball game,” Newton said.
Shaw suggested that the parking lot be transformed into a “train station” style farmers’ market, where patrons can walk down an aisle and go to vendors on either side.
“That’s what I envisioned,” Flint said. “You would have air moving through it. If you put it up against a wall, you’re trapped.”
Shaw also wanted to make sure that area vendors know what’s happening with the marketplace and that they’re involved with the process.
“Communication has obviously been negative, and we have not had the communication necessary to make everyone comfortable,” Schwartz said.
He said the group has interviewed for the market manager job and now have to choose between some very qualified candidates.
If the vendors are there, the customers will come, Shaw said.
“Farmers’ markets are more successful if you have the farmers’ markets all in one place,” Flint said. “If we can’t get that list [of vendors in Ottumwa’s farmers’ markets], then it becomes our role ... to develop such an attractive market for them that they want to be there.”
Swinton described how the marketplace in Marshalltown developed, though it initially faced opposition by a local farmers’ market.
“Finally the downtown Main Street people said we have the courthouse square. Let’s shut it down on both ends and run the market there,” Swinton said. “Instead of it just being a farmers’ market with vegetables, they hired entertainers, they brought in the YMCA to do games with the kids.
“Immediately one of those 40- to 50-year-old vendors said, ‘We’re going to put them out of business.’”
Swinton told those running the marketplace to ignore the naysayers.
“Within a month a guy trying to sell sweet corn said, ‘They have 1,000 customers and we have 20. Why not bring my truck over there?’” Swinton said. “By the end of one season everybody was OK. They just had to take a breath. This is what change, is and it’s all OK.”
Schwartz said they also need to decide what is considered local, “in order to make this as great of an appeal to consumers as possible and have options for them.”
He said there’s a possibility they could have a requirement stating a certain percentage of what’s sold must be locally grown and the rest doesn’t have to be.
“If you have more variety, you’ll have more customers,” Newton said.
Kim Steele-Blair, with Bloom and Bark Farms & Dog Bakery in Keosauqua, said many more people would open up to the idea of the marketplace if they only had to make one stop.
“One thing I like about the Des Moines Farmers’ Market is you can go there and buy local stuff — but you can also get a melon,” Steele-Blair said.
While she said she understands the importance of buying local, convenience is also a big issue for most people. They may only want to make one stop at a grocery store instead of bouncing from place to place around town.
Shaw also suggested OPRC look at making cloth bags that people can use to carry their purchases home instead of using plastic bags.
While Schwartz said he’s sure OPRC will have a manager hired by February, Flint hesitated and said not to make any promises.
“We’ve over-promised and under-delivered for quite awhile, and this has all taken longer than any of us would like,” Flint said. “We want to try and do it right. We want it to be successful.”
Flint said one of his concerns is that the marketplace is profitable, sustainable and a dynamic force in the community.
“I think the first few feet off the ground is where you run into the wall,” Newton said.