Food for Thought: An Indiana Harvest is divided into nine chapters. The “Place” chapter includes: Marcia Veldman, Pete and Alice Eshelman, Gary Corbett, Laura and Tyler Henderson, Alan Hanselman, Kay Grimm and Sue Spicer, Becky Hostetter, Jane and Fritz Kunz, Cindy Hoye. Get a taste for this chapter by reading the story below.
Bloomington Farmers’ Market
Every Saturday morning, April through November, the parking lot of Bloomington’s City Hall is turned into the state’s largest farmers’ market, with spaces for 100 vendors, live music, and special events like an annual heirloom tomato festival, where it’s not unusual to find as many as thirty-five different types of the lovingly grown fruit. The market, which has been in existence at different sites since 1975, is managed by the town’s Department of Parks and Recreation; Marcia Veldman has served as its coordinator since 1998. “I came back to Indiana to be a truck farmer,” says Veldman. “I didn’t even know I was interviewing to manage the market.”
Truly a crossroads
A number of different things come together beautifully here in Bloomington. The community support is just amazing. That’s most evident to me on those early spring days when it’s raining and it’s cold.
There are customers shopping in the rain with umbrellas and trench coats. They really care about getting their food locally, about supporting small farmers. Over the years, it’s become part of the culture of the community.
And because of the hills and hollows around here, people have been growing on small plots for a long time, whereas in other places there are big flat stretches of land turned to corn and soybeans. We didn’t have as much opportunity for corn and soybeans here, so there’s a long history of people putting out large gardens. Once they start selling at the market, some of those large gardens turn into small farms. I think that has really helped the market.
The market’s also been managed from the beginning in a community-based way. It’s open to anyone who grows what they sell in Indiana, which is kind of different from a lot of markets that, say, want thirty-five total vendors—and so many people with flowers. We’re like, if you grow it, you are welcome to sell here.
Sometimes I think it’s challenging for the vendors because you don’t know from one year to the next how many people are going to have tomatoes. But this really pushes the creativity and ingenuity of the vendors to look for those niches that other people aren’t filling. You can see thirty different kinds of potatoes being sold. When you have a more controlled environment it’s like, okay, these people are the potato growers and they might be satisfied with five varieties.
I think having professional management for the market is also beneficial. A lot of markets are volunteer based, which is wonderful, but having some consistency from year to year, having someone whose job it is to keep looking at the changing needs of the market has helped.
For example, we were the first open-air market in the state to allow for the sale of meat. It took a lot of time to work through the different agencies in the state, to get everybody on board and comfortable, to document how that can happen and to make it happen. When you’re a volunteer base or have very limited staffing, it’s hard to take the time to make those kinds of things happen.
One of the things I think is really neat to see on a Saturday morning is the melding of the community, where the market is truly a crossroads. I don’t think there’s any other place where the same cast of characters would cross paths. It’s a place where anyone can come and feel really comfortable and at home. That’s unusual. You don’t find a lot of places where very wealthy people and low income people or people who live in a certain neighborhood come together with people from the university.
I really feel it’s hard to imagine Bloomington without the market at this point. There’s this energy that spurs so much. People cross paths and start conversations about things happening in their neighborhoods. Those conversations might turn into a group that takes a stand on something. So it really engages the community in a way that’s hard to do otherwise because so much of it is based on chance. You go to the market to buy your produce, then you’re running into your neighbors, having those conversations.
It always blows my mind—leaving on a Friday night and it’s this empty parking lot. Then, during the market on Saturday, it’s this amazing, thriving place.