For more than 40 years, the Iowa City Farmers Market has bringing the term “farm-to-table” to life—long before the term even existed.
The market opened in 1972 with 13 vendors on a Saturday morning. Now the market features a Wednesday evening market from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with more than 50 vendors, and the traditional Saturday market from 7:30 a.m. to noon with more than 150 vendors, making it the largest farmers market in Johnson County.
“I think the markets are so successful for a variety of reasons, including the location, the diversity of products available, and the great programming the city has provided to promote the market,” says Emma Barnum, the co-owner of Brass Ring Coffee, which started attending the market last year. “Over the last few years the Saturday market has transformed from a fairly small venue for produce sales into a large community event that people attend week after week, even if they don't need to buy anything.”
The market, located at the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp on the 400 block of Washington Street, has expanded beyond just a place to get fresh produce—and each year those offerings get bigger. Crafts, made-to-order food, meats and baked goods have all contributed to making the farmers market more of a destination than a grocery store. Vendors like the Tic Tac Toe Bakery in Iowa City are coming to the market to sell their baked goods and introduce people to their business. Others like Brass Ring Coffee exist just to serve the crowds at the farmers market.
“This is a side business for us—we currently only exist at the market,” says Barnum. “It's been a great opportunity for us to meet people and share something we love on a scale that is feasible for us.”
Of course, that’s not to say the market doesn’t continue to draw actual farmers with their produce to sell. Holz Produce and Betty’s Fresh Produce have both been at the market for more than 30 years.
“I think the growth can be attributed to the growing interest younger generations have in getting back to their roots,” says Cassidy Bell, who oversees the market for the city. “There is a great interest in cooking outside the box, using local ingredients and getting to know the hands that feed us. Iowa City has always been a unique place that is able to support a number of local producers, but our market has more than tripled in size in the last 10 years, and we still haven't seemed to hit a plateau.
“I've been involved with the market since 2010 and it has been my pleasure to see the increase in young faces, both shoppers and vendors alike that have been cropping up,” says Bell. “My hope is that Farmers Markets are not a ‘trendy’ thing, but the new direction in food procurement.”