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Connecting the Community One Market at a Time

Published November 15, 2023

Fresh fruits, veggies, flowers, honey and more fill the vendor stalls as live musicians and children play in the open space at the Franklin Park Conservatory Farmers Market. Read on to learn how attendees such as yourself helped to build community while making this year’s Farmers Market an impactful, record-breaking year!

In 2019, the Conservatory began an urban Farmers Market, which takes place every Wednesday, June through September, in the Conservatory’s parking lot. 

When the Farmers Market was first opened, there were about 14 vendors, but over the years has grown to 28 vendors, with an average of 18 in attendance on a weekly basis. This year 6,380 individuals attend the Farmers Market.  

42 areas in Franklin County, and even more specifically, the 43203 zip code where Franklin Park Conservatory is located, are part of a food desert, which is defined as an area where there is limited access to affordable and nutritious food. According to the City of Columbus and Franklin County Ohio Local Food Action Plan, “In Columbus, almost 60% of Black households are food insecure compared to less than 25% of white households. All too often, low-income and limited-resource households are located in food deserts.”

The original intention of the Farmers Market was to serve as an incubator for new, up-and-coming businesses and to further connect the community, but after the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Conservatory noticed a rapidly growing need: access to healthy, affordable produce. In efforts to help combat this issue, the Farmers Market began implementing food assistance programs such as WIC, EBT or SNAP, and SFMNP benefits. 

Michele Bailey, Farmers Market Coordinator, has managed the Farmers Market since 2021 and stated she’s “seen a significant increase in attendance over the past three seasons, the number of customers on food assistance has grown substantially. The largest and most attended markets this season were the ones where WIC benefits were offered.”

In collaboration with Columbus Public Health, the Farmers Market hosted two WIC markets this season and were able to pass out 750 coupon books, with a total of $17,066 of benefits redeemed. These markets have allowed neighbors and community members to access fresh produce, while also learning about the benefits of healthy eating. 

To engage children in the Farmers Market experience, the market hosts a weekly booth called Veggie Champs. This offers kids the opportunity to taste a seasonal fruit or vegetable and learn about it, while also providing nutritional information and a recipe using the weekly vegetable. Our Veggie Champs have tried and learned about kohlrabi, cucamelons, and more! Through participation, children will receive $2 in “veggie bucks” to spend on a fruit or vegetable of their choice. Participants also receive a weekly “passport” that tracks their participation and awards them for attending the markets. 

“This empowers kids to begin making healthy choices as young consumers and allows them to learn more about the foods they are consuming,” Bailey said. 

Providing access to affordable fresh produce is not the only intention of the Farmers Market. Creating an environment where vendors and attendees feel a sense of community is also important to the Conservatory. 

Bailey has noticed that relationships between vendors and community members are happening especially for those who attend the market every week. 

“Vendors and attendees will recognize and talk with one another, I even have two vendors who have actually become really good friends. They even told me during the last market of the year that they would be back next week just to hang out,” Bailey said. 

This sense of community is felt throughout. Weekly Farmers Market attendee, Emily Dolance, shared how she feels a sense of community when she comes to the Farmers Market. “It’s such an incredible experience being able to talk directly to the producers and learn about the food I’m going to consume, especially in a world where our food is typically filled with preservatives and fillers. It’s so easy to make connections with vendors here! It’s also an added bonus that we get to support our local community and small business simultaneously. I’m already looking forward to next season!”

The future of the Farmers Market is bright as it continues to grow. Bailey believes in the coming years the Market will help to develop more and more local small businesses, and hopes the community will continue to view the Farmers Market as a resource here to serve them.

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