Berea Farmers Market
Berea Farmers Market is one of the oldest continuous working farmers markets in Kentucky. After years of moving locations around town, this farmer cooperative is ready for a permanent home, and the Berea Farmers Market board is working with KCARD to make it happen.
“KCARD works with cooperatives on business development, so the board asked them to help Berea Farmers Market with a feasibility study to focus on the establishment of a permanent location for the market,” explained Drew Elliot, the board President and owner of Clementine’s Bake Shop in Berea. “The market membership has grown and we have a waiting list most years for sports, so we are ready for more than just an empty parking lot. We wanted a permanent home for our farmers.”
“KCARD provides business assistance to cooperatives through our USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant, and we used these funds to help the Berea Farmers Market with this project,” explained Nathan Routt, KCARD Business Specialist. “We helped them look into the feasibility of changing locations to a more permanent spot with a covered pavilion and indoor retail area for year-round sales of produce and prepared foods/deli/coffee.”
“Everybody from KCARD has been great,” said Elliott. “There was no way we could have done this feasibility study on our own. While the assistance provided by KCARD was instrumental in making this happen, I also know that from a time perspective and knowledge base it is a challenge to take on a project such as this and having KCARD involved every step of the way was the key to making this happen.”
The study showed that a new more permanent location away from planned construction near the Berea College Farm Store was feasible. Also, given the number of vendors and the status of the established market, a covered pavilion was feasible with help from outside entities that could provide funding and access to land.
“The study showed that an indoor retail area was not feasible at the current time,” said Routt. “We advised them that if they got the chance to build a covered pavilion they should design it so they could enclose a section at a later date, if an indoor retail sales area became feasible.”
Routt explained that the study identified that most of the established larger public markets in larger cities looked at added infrastructure and broadened product offerings at a pace that matched customer demand. In working with the market, KCARD knew the path of growth for the Berea market could be similar and as the customer base grows, the market may be able to reach a point where an indoor retail area is feasible.
“They have a good base of current customers, and if growth experienced in the past couple of years continues, they could make the case for adding it in the future,” said Routt.
The board of the Berea Farmers Market plan to use the recently completed feasibility study as they plan for the future of the market.
“We are hoping to take the study and information gained in the process and use it as we begin talks with the city to partner on a permanent location for the farmers market,” said Elliott. “We would like to see a partnership develop between the market and the City of Berea like we have seen develop in other cities. We realize everyone has a tight budget, and that is the main reason we want to have a study with that outside independent professional perspective to take with our proposal to the city.” This year’s market season is going full force at its current location downtown, as the board is planning for the future of the market behind the scenes. The market has 30 members, who range from specialized small farmers to large scale farmers, both organic and conventional, who offer a wide range of products. Elliott noted that in the last five years both membership and aggregate sales have grown rapidly.
“We are 100% producer market, so our customers know if they are buying from a vendor, they are buying produce or value-added products made by that individual,” said Elliott. “We offer our customers a great experience at the market and a wide range of products. The increase in sales and vendors loading up at the end of the day with empty trucks show that we are providing a service to our customers in the community.”
The market received a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant a few years ago to begin offering customers more than just produce at the market. The market utilized the grant funds to start a special 2nd Saturday promotion for the market. On the 2nd Saturday each month the market offers special educational activities related to the season for the kids and adults at the market.
“We have farmers and other specialists come in and conduct demonstrations and educational activities at the market and really use this an opportunity to reach out to new customers in the community to engage them at the market,” said Elliott. “We have also reached out beyond the community by mentoring with individuals in Eastern Kentucky interested in starting a market.”
Elliot said the board of the Berea Farmers Market recognizes that farmers markets in general offer an engine for entrepreneurship, and they want to foster those entrepreneurs in the area by offering more opportunities to sell products. At the same time the local market can provide a great resources for local foods and programs for the community.
“I think you have to look at a farmers market as an onion with many layers,” laughed Elliott. “On the outside most people see it as market for farmers to sell produce. But when you start peeling the layers you see it is also a place for customers to buy fresh local foods; it is a community gathering place; it is a springboard for entrepreneurs; it is a place to learn more about healthy eating; and, it is an economic driver in a community. Thanks to the help and guidance from KCARD, we now have a professional study to take to our community leaders to showcase the many roles of the market and begin planning a partnership for the future.”
The Berea Farmers Market is open Saturday from 9am to 1pm and Tuesday from 3pm to 6pm at 416 Chestnut Street in the grassy lot across from People’s Bank. To learn more about the market visit http://bereafarmersmarket.org.
Article first published August 8, 2016.