OTTUMWA — Something good to eat could be a draw to Wapello County.
The county board of supervisors Tuesday put $30,000 in support toward the opening of Market on Main in downtown Ottumwa.
"I think this is a very necessary renovation," said Supervisor Steve Siegel about the project. "That building is a gateway to downtown."
Supervisors said at some point in the past, the building at Main and Jefferson streets was becoming "an eyesore." Soon, however, it will be a year-round destination offering farmers a place to sell produce, residents a place to sell locally made goods and educators to teach the public more about nutritious local foods. Supervisors Jerry Parker and Greg Kenning also saw the county donation as an investment in the community: That made the vote unanimous.
Mark Eckman, director of the Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that when you consider the good restaurants in Ottumwa, then add in a year-round food-based destination like Market on Main, you get a powerful draw for out-of-town visitors.
"We've happened upon something that is emerging nationwide: Culinary tourism," said Eckman, who is on the Market on Main committee, "has become an interest of travelers throughout the United States. And it's not all high brow; we're talking about eating fresh, eating healthy and local, which is certainly something that Iowa offers. Eating something on a trip that may not be available in your area. Those kind of experiences ... can be a passion."
Despite the unpredictable weather in the state, there aren't many indoor, year-round farmers' markets. And while that means Market on Main is "nicely situated" to benefit from the increase in people who travel based on good, wholesome food, Eckman stressed that Market on Main is more than just a produce market. There will be a commercial kitchen, a restaurant and a place for the community to gather and talk about improving access to locally produced food.