The warm-up to summer sees more farmers markets opening this weekend in towns outside Wichita – Derby, Cheney and Newton all open Saturday.
While the drought has caused some markets to struggle, others are managing to stay stable, and some are even growing, thanks to the perseverance of veteran growers and extra perks that bring communities together around a core of fresh produce.
“We’ve been getting more and more vendors every year, really,” said Kelsey Blue, program coordinator for the city of Haysville. She expects 20 to 25 sellers this year when the market opens June 15.
The Haysville market is a place on the map since a pergola was built six years ago to give it a physical structure – along with electricity and a restroom. The market is at the W.W. Hays Village Historic Park at 100 S. Main, and can be rented out for other events.
“I think we have a good core group of vendors who have done it for quite a while,” Blue said. “Having the vendors who are good, that brings customers out. They have good-quality produce. I think our people like to stay local, and we have a lot of seniors who come in” to use coupons provided by the Kansas Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
El Dorado’s farmers market has been meeting for several years under a giant cottonwood tree at 1000 S. Main, and will start a new season in its shade on June 8. While City Manager Herb Llewellyn notes that the location is unique, he also has a structure in mind for the future of the market: an old lumber storage building at 121 W. Ash.
“I think it’ll be the coolest farmers market around,” Llewellyn said. The Butler County government has given money toward the purchase of the building, he said, and he hopes the city can close on the deal this year.
Market manager Lowell Lygrisse said that the market has a dozen vendors now, and it’s open not only on Saturday mornings but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 4 to 6 p.m., starting the second week in June.
“We don’t have room for many, but they’re real faithful,” Lygrisse said.
Last year, when the heat and drought caused some markets to disappear because the vendors did, “everybody came” to the El Dorado market, he said. Such faithfulness is a big ingredient in a successful market, Lygrisse said.
“It’s kind of sometimes rough to keep things going. You just have to work at it. Everybody we have works together, and most of the people we have are senior citizens. They get the grandkids out – it’s kind of a family affair – and they do a good job. They keep their good land. They have really good produce.”
The other half of the market equation is equally important: “We do have a good customer base,” Lygrisse said.
Other markets have not been as fortunate, and a surge in interest in growing for farmers markets a few years ago has gotten derailed because of the drought.
“I would say that while there are still people interested in getting started, the interest has leveled off a lot in the last couple of years, and I attribute that to weather and not to demand,” Sedgwick County extension agent Rebecca McMahon said.
Valley Center doesn’t have a farmers market anymore; neither does Andover or Hesston. The manager of Augusta’s market put out a plea for more vendors to join the three he probably has lined up when the market opens next weekend. Derby is in the same spot, as is Cheney.
“Three of us are trying to keep it going,” Cami McAndrew said of the Cheney market, which will be open from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday. While there had been “quite a few” vendors attending the market on a regular basis a few years ago, “the last two years have been terrible for gardens. I think that’s been a big put-off for people,” McAndrew said. But she’s hopeful for this year: Six to eight people already have asked for information.
“It’s just been hard in the last three years. We’ve only had like three vendors,” said Barbara Happy, who with her husband, Bob, sells Happy’s Home Grown produce at Derby’s market (and at most of the Wichita markets). “I’m kind of disgusted, especially with the weather the way it’s been.”
Barbara Happy said that the location of Derby’s market, at the El Paso Village shopping center at 800 N. Baltimore off K-15, is congested and dangerous to get in and out of, especially since a lot of the people who go to the market are seniors. She’s hoping for a new location; one idea that’s been floated is a Dillons store that closed at Madison and Rock Road.
For a small town like Colwich, the farmers market is a way for the community to come together once a week. On Wednesday evenings starting June 5 at Veterans Park off 53rd and Colorado, people will not only be able to buy produce but dinner. Various vendors show up through the summer offering such things as hamburgers, bierocks and enchiladas, said Mary Ann Morrison, who coordinates the market. A couple of times a summer, when it’s really hot, the fire department comes out and douses the children with water. “That’s always a lot of fun,” Morrison said.
“It’s been steady and increased a lot,” she said of the number of vendors. “Last year we probably had a dozen.”