Inside the Treasure Valley's farmers markets

Vendors see opportunities as Valley farmers markets grow in popularity. But not all markets make money, and not all goods are what they seem.

SPECIAL TO BUSINESS INSIDERJuly 9, 2013 

  • Capital City Public Market Inc.

    802 W. Bannock St., Suite 800, Boise 83702

    An IRC 501(c)(6) tax-exempt nonprofit

    Statement: "Capital City Public Market envisions healthy communities nourished by sustainable food systems providing economically viable opportunities for agricultural vendors, food producers and artisans."

    Paid staff: Two full-time, five part-time.

    Income: Not disclosed.

    Members: 154 (regular vendors).

    Cost to sell: $40 to $60/day plus member fees for long-term vendors.

    Booths: About 140.

    Attendees: Estimated 12,000-17,000 per week.

    Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21.

    Location: 8th Street from Bannock to The Grove, and Idaho Street between Capitol Boulevard and 9th Street.

    Boise Farmers Market Inc.

    P.O. Box 1704, Boise 83701-1704.

    Has requested IRC 501 (c)(6) nonprofit tax-exempt status.

    Statement: "The Boise Farmers Market supports a regenerative, healthy food and agricultural system by operating a vibrant marketplace featuring locally grown and crafted products."

    Paid staff: Four part-time.

    Income: Projected $50,000 to $60,000 first season.

    Cost to sell: $35 to $100/day plus $75 annual fee.

    Booths: 40 to 50.

    Attendees: Estimated 3,000 to 5,000 per week.

    Hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

    Location: Parking lot at 11th and Grove streets.

    East End Market at Bown Crossing

    Owner: Adrian + Sabine, 416 S. 8th St., Suite 102, Boise 83702.

    Statement: "The East End Market at Bown Crossing is Boise's only weekly Sunday green market featuring regional and seasonal produce, local products, goods, music, and artists."

    Paid staff: Two part-time seasonal.

    Income: Not disclosed.

    Cost to sell: $31.50 to $40.50/day.

    Booths: About 35.

    Attendees: Estimated 800 to 1,000.

    Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 13.

    Location: Bown Crossing neighborhood on South Bown Way between ParkCenter Boulevard and Boise Avenue.

    Public Market at The Village at Meridian

    Owner: Adrian + Sabine, 416 S. 8th St., Suite 102, Boise 83702.

    Statement: "Fresh local goodness."

    Paid staff: One part-time seasonal.

    Income: Not disclosed.

    Cost to sell: $31.50 to $40.50/day.

    Booths: 20 to 25, more expected later in summer.

    Attendees: Estimated 400 to 500.

    Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 14.

    Location: 1900 N. Eagle Road, Meridian, in the parking lot in front of Big Al's near the corner of Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue.

    Kuna Farmers Market

    P.O. Box 162, Kuna 83634.

    Working to file as an Idaho nonprofit.

    Statement: "Our growing, community market features locally grown and handcrafted products."

    Paid staff: One part-time.

    Income: Not disclosed.

    Cost to sell: $30 plus 7 percent commission on sales.

    Booths: 10 to 12, more expected with availability of seasonal produce.

    Attendees: Estimated 100 to 200.

    Hours: 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays except Aug. 3 until Sept. 28.

    Location: Kuna City Park, downtown.

    Organizers of markets in Eagle, Nampa and Caldwell did not return calls seeking information.

Farmers markets, public markets, Saturday markets - whatever you call them, they're sprouting up everywhere. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of farmers markets nationwide has grown more than 400 percent since 1994, and 9.6 percent in the past year. It's estimated that Idaho has about 50 markets, including at least seven in Ada and Canyon counties.

Peddling and celebrating fresh, locally grown produce and other products can be a struggle. A dispute last summer within the management of the Capital City Public Market, the Valley's biggest, led to the dismissal of its longtime executive director and the creation of a competing market a few blocks away. A market in Meridian folded, replaced in June by a new market tied to a giant shopping center going up at Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue. Newmarkets like that may take years to turn a profit.

Click on icons below for details about local farmers markets:

THE MARKET BUSINESS

Some markets are privately owned and managed. Others reflect a city or developer's efforts to boost traffic in a local business district. Many are operated as nonprofit corporations as an outgrowth of the founders' commitment to local producers.

"No market gets profitable in the first five years," says Courtney Feider, owner of the Boise marketing firm Adrian + Sabine, which owns and manages the East End Market at Bown Crossing and the new Public Market at The Village at Meridian. Feider says market managers must prepare for a 10-year commitment before expecting reasonable returns.

While markets vary in size, the vendor and product mix seems consistent over time and place: local fruits, produce and meat; arts and crafts; prepared and on-site food; and music.

"One of our basic rules is that 75 percent of the product (in a vendor's booth) has to be grown or raised by the vendor," says Quency Murphey, president of the small Kuna Farmers Market. "You can pretty much tell the stuff that our vendors have did not come from the dollar store, and it's not what you're going to find at Home Depot or Costco."

WHAT IS A 'TRUE' MARKET?

Look carefully and you may discern differences in focus among markets. Some feature more crafts and goods. Some focus more heavily on local agriculture.

Downtown Boise's two markets are a case in point. The Capital City Public Market, founded in 1994, spreads across 8th and Bannock streets, while the upstart Boise Farmers Market does business in a leased parking lot at 10th and Grove streets.

Farmers Market Manager Karen Ellis has a target formula for the mix of vendors at her market: 70 percent selling locally grown food and produce, 10 percent artists, 10 percent on-site food vendors, and 10 percent offering prepared foods such as pies and jellies.

"We feel (the Farmers Market) is more of true farmers market" than the Capital City market, says Seth Mathews of Mathews Family Farm in Weiser, who sells honey, chicken and lamb at both. "But as far as sales go, (the two markets are) about equal. The other market has maybe more people, but the people who are buying there almost every week also tend to come over here."

At Capital City, the target mix is divided among growers, artisans and food vendors. Its website says the market serves as an "incubator for independent, seasonal micro business … and provides a beneficial marketplace for vendors, Downtown merchants and shoppers."

CAPITAL CITY CONFLICT

Last year's rift apparently was caused by a combination of philosophical, business and management issues, depending upon who you talk to.

It resulted in the firing of Ellis, Capital City's founder. It generated bad publicity, raised questions and caused some agricultural vendors to leave. They launched the new farmers market this spring with Ellis as manager.

Capital City's new executive director, Lisa Duplessie, is careful in describing the split.

"What happened last fall was for the best for Capital City Public Market," Duplessie says. "Our job for the market is to create a safe, reliable, secure place for (vendors) to come down and make money, and I can honestly tell you that I don't feel that was the position the market was in a year ago.

"Karen did a wonderful job building this market, but I can't then go in and vilify her for things that were a (private) personnel issue."

Janie Burns, owner of Meadowlark Farm in Nampa, remains an outspoken critic of the Capital City market.

Burns, who raises lambs and chickens, is an advocate of Idaho's local food movement, a former member and vendor at the Capital City market and one of the new market's founders.

VENDOR MISREPRESENTATION

At the heart of Burns' discontent is that some vendors at Capital City have sold food or other items they did not raise or make.

Dishonest vendors "can slip in product that they bought somewhere else, and no one's the wiser, unless you're caught," Burns says. "We know there are people reselling product. They're still at Capital City Public Market, and we can't stand it."

At the new market, "We work very hard to gain and maintain their faith that when we say we are growing something, we are," Burns says.

Duplessie acknowledges there was reselling in the past, but says incidents were few and market managers responded.

"We are a 100 percent producer-only market," she says. "We have always been 100 percent producer-only and have always done site visits when there is a concern that a vendor is not growing or producing what they say.

"I've already been on three (site visits) this year. In the 10 years that I've been here, I can recall three vendors that have been asked to no longer participate at the market because it was found that they were not producing or growing what they were selling."

One vendor now is appealing the market's charge of reselling, Duplessie says.

SELLERS' SUCCESS STORIES

Some vendors don't choose sides.

Mathieu Choux, owner of Gaston's Bakery and Le Cafe de Paris, was staffing a booth at the new market one recent Saturday but sells at both.

"We've done Capital market for 12 years, and when this one started, we were excited for the opportunity to do a second market," he says.

"There is definitely more farm and less art here. I think they are both great, but this one is a little more focused on food, and the other one has more, different vendors, artists, more wineries. I know they are both busy."

Garrett Brown, owner of Brown's Buffalo Ranch in Nyssa with 200 animals, says being at both markets with coolers full of bison cuts is good business. On an average Saturday he sells 500 pounds of meat, including orders for bison sides and wholes.

"We go through a lot of product," Brown says. "We go through probably 50 to 60 percent of our total annual sales at the markets."

Tim Spanbauer, brewer at Boise's TableRock Brewery, says the Boise Farmers Market seemed like a good place to do some test marketing one recent Saturday.

"We're trying to gauge the public's response on different containers of beer and let them know what we're doing … and maybe talk a few people into going there for lunch today," Spanbauer said.

"We've participated in the other market quite a bit last year and had pretty good success there. We wanted to try this new market out. I think the people who come to this type of market are the people that are going to come to our restaurant and enjoy our hand-made food and hand-crafted beer. These are our people."

Even children see business potential in the markets.

Renee Ross, 13, likes the crowds at the Capital City market. She stands on a busy corner, sings and plays her guitar every Saturday with an open guitar case at her feet.

"I just like to share music with people, and I love it," she says. "I want to get my name out there in the music business, and I think this is a good place to start. It's fun - I get to play music, and I also get paid for it."

•••

Lennon S. Reid: sreid@nextploration.com

 

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