The Farm to Table Farmers Market is adapting to meet demand. The crowds of residents who turned out for opening day last Wednesday in Monroe had access to a larger selection of local meats and produce than in years past.
About half of the listed vendors are farmers or growers, and they will sell a portion of their harvests this year. Market manager Molly Daniels amped up the offerings after receiving specific feedback from stakeholders.
“They wanted more traditional farmers market vendors,” she said.
This is the market’s third year in operation, and second year at Lake Tye Park.
Tents were packed with displays of handcrafted goods, flowers and food in all its forms. The temporary structures spilled over from the lawn into the parking lot, where the market was contained last year.
Daniels said at an average of 50 vendors are expected to set up shop each week this season. About 20 vendors would regularly turn out to sell their products in 2015, Daniels said. That is about double the participation from when the direct-to-consumer market first cropped up. By 2016, they outgrew their venue in the Grocery Outlet parking lot, she said.
The city of Monroe then agreed the market could be moved to Lake Tye Park, where Daniels had originally wanted it. As the market has steadily expanded, she said her priority has been to maintain the family friendly atmosphere.
Daniels is also the founder and owner of Poppy Seed Productions, a local event planning company that works with partners throughout the region. She is also a full-time mother of four. She said she has always tried to cater to the two main demographics that attend the market — families and those seeking the conventional experience.
“It appeals to both,” she said.
Daniels has themed days every two weeks: Kids Day on July 5; Bearcats Day on Aug. 16; Christmas in July event on July 19 and the first Sandcastle Festival on July 15. She said real sand will be hauled in to assist those who participate in the non-competitive activities.
Farmers market sponsor Jeremy Johnson, owner of Monroe Smiles family dentistry, is also hosting family game nights, which will include corn hole, gunny sack races and a water balloon toss.
Daniels said the Johnsons’ involvement in the market is what has made it successful from day one. The family has always been willing to take care of whatever is needed to keep things running smoothly each year, she said.
Johnson’s wife, Heather, came out for opening day last week. She said she has always been pleased with the direction the farmers market has taken over the years, especially the ability to expand promotion for small businesses.
“It has been wonderful,” she said. “It is exciting to see all the new vendors each year.”
Johnson said the family often comes out to relax, spend time with friends and buy local products. She said much her shopping is not just for her husband and children. She often finds gifts for friends among the different tents.
Daniels said this year the farmers market will be open later, from 3-7 p.m. on Wednesdays. She said it has always been her goal to host the event on a Saturday, but many large, regional markets are held the same day.
The competition has been a concern.
A smaller version of the Wednesday market will be held on the third Saturday of each month this season. It will be a trial run to see if the market can eventually make a permanent switch, Daniels said.
Amber, Ava and Lucas Calipusan came out to shop the farmers market for the first time last Wednesday. They were specifically looking for cherries, and also fresh vegetables. Her son had something else in mind.
“He’s the kettle corn fan,” she said with a laugh while the small crew stood outside Cascade Kettle Corn stand in the parking lot.
Owner Emily Carlson was assisted by her son, Johan, that afternoon. About an hour into this year’s season she was hauling and filling long plastic bags with fresh, sugary popcorn.
“It has been a great show already, and the day is young,” she said.
Photos by Kelly Sullivan: Johan Carlson hands Lucas Calipusan a bag of Cascade Kettle Corn at the Farm to Table Farmers Market at Lake Tye Park on Wednesday, June 28.Teresa Willard and Dianne Forth attended opening day.