Farmer’s Market thrives in community-focused town
By Julia Pergolini
Something unique happens in the Ithaca air, when after a long and unwelcoming winter, the Farmer’s Market opens again for the spring season. The comfort that’s restored in the ritual of making your way through the dust-filled roads is something most Ithacans know well.
There’s a small child, no more than six, playing violin at the center entrance. The scent of baked goods, creamy soups and fresh roasted coffees blend into a sweet and addictive aroma. Clusters of people stroll up and down the pavilion, munching on their favorite treats and greeting familiar faces. The dock is full, and long lines have assembled in front of Sticky Rice and Solaz, peoples’ mouths’ watering as they wait for infamous breakfast burritos.
The Ithaca Farmer’s Market (IFM) is an important staple in the Ithaca community and has come a long way since its start in the Agway parking lot in 1973. It brings unity to the diverse population that exists here and serves as a commonplace to converse with old friends, meet new and enlightening people, and support one another’s crafts or livelihoods.
“It brings everybody out into a ‘market square’ atmosphere, says Diane Janowski, vendor for Janowski Gardens.
Socially, the Farmer’s Market is an essential piece in bridging gaps in the community, just looking to enjoy good company, lively spirits, heavenly fresh food, and if lucky, some agreeable weather.
Since its opening, IFM has gained a lot of national attention. Tourists and Farmer’s Market enthusiasts know the market well. Some arrive looking for rare, handmade goods and crafts for sale. All items are made within 30 miles of Ithaca, with as many local resources as possible. Vendors serve foods that represent regions from Cambodia to Cuba, a reflection of Ithaca’s cultural diversity.
Additionally, the market has become zero waste in recent years. All dishware is compostable, with guides at every trash post indicating what items can be recycled or composted. This initiative started because the market was wasting a significant amount of money on trash removal expenses, although it’s no secret that the Ithaca community as a whole is very eco-conscious.
“People have this image of farmer’s markets being [an] ecological scene, and we wanted to live up to that,” Steve Sierigk of Acorn Designs, specializing in eco-friendly stationary, said at the time of the switchover, two years ago.
The market’s zero waste project encourages the public to cut down on unnecessary trash and maintain its eco-friendly ideals. Boulder, Colo., was the first farmer’s market to maintain an ongoing zero waste initiative, and Ithaca is one of very few others to have done the same.
But that’s not the only way IFM is keeping things green. Today the market has over 165 vendors, all of whom have businesses in a 30-mile range of Ithaca. Keeping it limited to local businesses is an important aspect to creating a successful farmers market.
“The average mouthful [of food] in the United States travels 1,300 miles before it is finally eaten,” according to research done at Tufts University’s Food Awareness Project. Providing locally grown food is better for the environment and consumers.
Locally grown produce cuts down on fossil fuel emissions because fresh food isn’t getting loaded into a truck to be shipped cross-country. In addition, it’s not pumped with hormones and chemical agents just in order to make it last that long drive and then onto your kitchen tables. And while the Ithaca Market is not solely organic, most local farmers don’t use as many pesticides as large commercial farmers who produce in bulk. In addition, selling locally is also more financially profitable for the farmers. The wholesale prices that farmers get are so low that they barely make a profit through regular distribution; they make far more money when they can sell directly to the customer.
“It allows farmers to sell directly to the eater and thus cut out the middleman,” says vendor Karma Glos, of Kingbird Farm.
Both Janowski and Jen Bokaer-Smith, of West Haven Farm, agree that the market makes up to 50 percent of their sales. Karma Glos says, “It’s our entire business.”
Some farms offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which is essentially a subscription to produce for a few months or a year. One becomes a member of the farm, like a co-op, pays a flat fee and receives bushels of produce, dairy, meats or other farm products. This further connects the buyer to the farm and the food they eat and bridges the gap between farmer and customer, so much so that the customer holds a share in it.
This community is small, but far more intimate that most other cities its size. The communal support system is strong–more than that: going every week and interacting with the people who actually grow the food that you’re about to put on the table is a one-of-a-kind experience. There is great camaraderie and loyalty developed between customer and seller.
“The market brings people together for the vital act of gathering food,” Glos said. “This unites communities with their food growers and producers… It is the center of my financial and social network. Our farm could not exist without it.”
People are beginning to see the benefits of farmers markets all across the U.S. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are over 4,600 farmers markets in the nation, which is just above an 18 percent increase since 2004 and a seven percent increase since 2006. Essentially, you can’t visit most cities in this country without being more than a few miles away from a farmer’s market, but Ithaca Farmer’s Market is a hard act to follow.
There’s plenty of space to sit along the lake, and there’s even talk of getting a new waterfront trail so that people can travel to and from the Market and across the southern tip of Cayuga Lake to other destinations. The market is opening Saturday April 4 at Steamboat Landing, near Route 13 and 3rd Street in Ithaca from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday hours will begin in May.
Julia Pergolini is a senior English major. E-mail her at jpergol1[at]ithaca.edu.