My husband, Nate, and I farm in Crothersville. We enthusiastically support the updates to the Seymour Farmers Market. We sell at the Madison and Columbus farmers markets, but we haven’t been interested in selling at the Seymour market before. We farm for part of our living, and if we are going to sell at market, it’s important that the market is organized, is publicized, and is well attended.
We believe that the updates will make the market stronger, and so we have decided to start selling our pasture-raised meat in Seymour. We are excited about this opportunity. There’s been a fair bit of confusion around the updates to market, though, so I’m writing today to try to share my support for the updates to the Seymour Farmers Market, as well as some facts and ideas.
Concern I’ve heard: Seymour is too small for a big-city style farmers market.
My response: Seymour is plenty big for an updated farmers market.
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Size is a matter of perspective. I grew up 15 minutes outside of Crothersville, and that’s where I live as an adult. I love my hometown, but I’ll be the first to admit that, by comparison, Seymour feels like a booming place. It’s where I go for the hardware store, the hospital, dinner out, the optometrist, the doctor — and it’s plenty large to add “thriving farmers market” to that list. Small towns nearby have structured farmers markets with set hours, events, and publicity (examples: Orleans and North Vernon). Yes, Seymour is smaller than Bloomington and Columbus. But we’re not trying to be like those cities, and we’re not trying to make our market like theirs. We’re trying to learn from them because they’re successful. Our market will have our own unique flavor because we’re us. This doesn’t mean we aren’t still down-home, small-town folks. It just means we have a more effective way to sell and buy our food – in fact, it’s a way that keeps more money in our community.
Concern I’ve heard: Having market two days a week will limit access to local food.
My response: Customers will buy more local food if they can find it reliably, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
We’re trying to help all vendors by making a market that’s more attractive to customers. Adding regular, publicized hours for Wednesdays and Saturdays should not hurt vendors on other days in any way if they are willing to adapt their harvest and storage a bit. Hoosiers buy most of their vegetables from California, and that food is more than one day old, and it is certainly from far away. We are trying to build up the market so that there is more local food, and it is available reliably.
I want to pause here and acknowledge the farmers who have been selling at the market all these years — who I hope will continue to sell at the Seymour market. If we have a bad green beans year in our family garden, we swing by the farmers market to buy them by the bushel so that we have something to can for winter. The downside, of course, is that we usually have to drive into town several times before we find a vendor at market selling green beans. But once we find them, we are grateful. The farmers who sell at the Seymour market provide an important service to our community. These vendors are needed and valuable.
That said, most customers aren’t going to drive to town three times to find green beans. I’m not saying our family is perfect — I’m saying that today, customers are busy and they need to know when and where they can find a diversity of local products. Most customers won’t swing by the market to see if anyone might be there selling the product they’re hoping to buy. Sure, if the customer is enthusiastic, they might swing by once or twice. But if there’s not a consistent, known supply of good food, they’ll stop swinging by at all. Understandably, they’ll start going straight to the supermarket.
That’s at the heart of the matter: people in Seymour want (and deserve) more local food, and if we create a market that meets their needs, all the vendors will come out ahead financially.
There’s an old saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We are genuinely trying to make market better for everyone – all vendors and all customers. In fact, I propose that the vendors who sell throughout the week come and sell on Wednesdays and Saturdays, too, and with an open mind. I suspect that as the season progresses and word spreads about the consistent supply and diversity of local, fresh food, there will be more customers on those days than on the other days of the week.
Concern I’ve heard: The market is setting prices.
My response: The market is creating a level playing field for local farmers.
The market is establishing some minimum prices to avoid wholesalers (people who buy food at auction or in bulk and then resell it). What’s wrong with wholesale food at the farmers market? People come to a farmers market expecting to buy food from the person who grew or raised it. Wholesalers resell lower quality products that hurt the market because customers buying their product become confused.
If a customer thinks he bought a wonderful, homegrown August tomato and then at home slices into it and realizes it tastes like every other grocery store tomato, he’s probably not going to come back to the farmers market. The goal is to establish a level playing field at the market.
To be totally honest, setting minimum prices also encourages farmers to charge a reasonable price for their high quality product. We are not trying to set up a market where people can’t afford to shop. We hope to serve everyone in the community with fair prices. But we do need our farmers to be able to farm one year after the next, which requires prices that cover their costs, including labor, seed, feed, etc.
Concern I’ve heard: This is a bunch of big government, progressive mumbo-jumbo.
My response: We are trying to update the market because Seymour customers asked us to.
Farmers (including us) have been asking for a more diverse, structured market in Seymour. Customers want to be sure that, if they swing by the market, someone will be there selling a diversity of vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, honey, and other farm products. That means we need a bit of structure. But there’s no red-tape, and the farmers aren’t going to have to pay big fees. The $20 fee to do business is very low, and most vendors support this fee, which can be used for publicity. Most markets in our area charge $75 to $100 (or more) to sell at market.
And here’s something that might surprise you: this isn’t progressive. It’s very exciting, yes, and I will be the first to praise the citizens who are leading this update. But we’re really just catching Seymour’s market up to what Seymour deserves: a thriving farmers market where farmers can make part of their living and where customers can access local, fresh food.
I’m tired of southern Indiana communities holding onto an idea of what we “should” be rather than what we can be. In the good old days, Seymour (and Crothersville) had more opportunities for young people, more independent businesses, and more community engagement. We have lost so much over the years, and we have to work to make this place a place we want to live.
Concern I’ve heard: Food from beyond Jackson County isn’t fresh or local.
My response: Local food has a connection to that place, and it’s based on relationships.
Our farm is about one mile (as the crow flies) into Jennings County. But we do our business in Jackson County, from banking to health to fun. Should we not be allowed to sell our pasture-raised meat?
Farmers sell at the closest, strongest markets to their home. We’ve been invited to sell at markets in Spencer, Hope, and Versailles. I don’t mention this to brag – lots of other farmers have been invited, too, of course! I bring it up because all of these small towns are organizing strong, structured markets so their farmers have a place to sell food and their citizens have good food to eat.
We would prefer not to sell at those other markets, though. Seymour is our closest farmers market and it could be our home farmers market, if you’ll open your hearts to us and to changes that are good for the whole community. Isn’t that what Hoosier hospitality is all about: welcoming others with kindness and interest, and working together as a community? I hope we can move beyond the confusion and frustration that are currently surrounding the updates to the market. We look forward to building a connection to more customers and fellow farmers in Seymour, and to giving customers a way to connect to the land through good, fresh food. I hope we can build a strong farmers market together.
Liz Brownlee is a farmer from Crothersville. She and her husband, Nate, raise animals on the family farm and sell meat at farmers markets in Madison and Columbus. They look forward to selling at the updated Seymour Farmers Market. They contribute monthly articles to FarmIndiana, an AIM Media Indiana publication.