Berea Farmers Market is one of the most vibrant in the region, with over 30 paid vendors bringing a diversity of produce each week. It is a year-round source of fresh, local food for both the Berea residents and those from neighboring counties.
Despite the loyal following of local food enthusiasts, many low-income community members continued to find farmers’ markets inaccessible, unaffordable, and unapproachable.
Berea was able to leverage funds from the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program to really connect with the community in a way that has revitalized their market into a food destination for everyone. They began to see how the farmers market could play an important role in the fabric of community life, rather than just another space to buy food.
The key to transforming a place into a thriving destination comes down to offering a range of reasons to be there (about 10). It’s not enough to sell fresh local produce – you need to find a collection of ways to make the market interesting and useful for everybody in the community.
Once the Berea Farmers Market Board committed to making changes that would attract low-income community shoppers, they set about building their capacity by expanding local partnerships and leaning on the paid market manager. Each of these 10 incremental changes led to a greater interest in the farmers market and helped establish it as a destination for families within the community.
- Accept Federal Nutrition Benefits: Without the means to accept federal nutrition benefits, such as SNAP/EBT, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, farmers otherwise don’t have access to this group of shoppers. “It’s not just about the food,” said Carla Baumann, Berea Farmers Market Board member and vendor. “It creates goodwill among the community that we can honor people’s method of payment. It’s very heartening for both the farmers and families shopping.”
- Double Dollars Incentive Program: Double Dollars match the value of a customer’s federal nutrition benefits when used to purchase fresh, local produce from the market. When funding is available to support the incentive program, Berea experiences higher redemption rates and an increase in sales from SNAP/EBT, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program
- Cooking Demonstrations: The Madison County Cooperative Extension sets up a booth to offer tips, tricks and demos on how to select ripened produce, and prepare fresh, raw fruits and vegetables for cooking delicious healthy meals.
- Taste-Testings: Community residents volunteer their time on Saturdays to prepare simple dishes made with ingredients found at the market that day. Customers can sample, ask questions, and purchase the ingredients all in one place.
- Benches: Simply providing a space for people to sit, provides an opportunity for customers to leisurely enjoy their time at the market while shopping or visiting family and friends.
- Music: By inviting local artists and musicians to perform, customers can expect to enjoy entertainment beyond their shopping experience.
- Sprouts Club: In an effort to make families feel comfortable bringing their children while shopping, the Berea Farmers Market started the Sprouts Club—an opportunity for kids to participate in arts and crafts, games, and other active-play programming. As a reward for participating, each kid is given a $2 voucher to use at the market.
- Summer Meal Service Program (SMSP): Berea Neighborhood Food Project a partner site of Grow Appalachia, sponsored a mobile summer meal service program with a rotating schedule of sites including the Berea Farmers Market. The mobile food cart serves as the designated location for serving meals, housing market manager equipment and collecting donated produce for the Food Bank. By bringing the SMSP to the market, families are encouraged to shop for local produce while their children eat, and together they can experience the fun activities and entertainment of the market.
- Location: In 2016, the market was strategically moved to a location that better connected with the community. Their new site is situated in a neighborhood between the main drag and the Urban Ag District revitalization project. Not only is it more visible to visitors and residents, the green space is within walking distance of the Peoples Bank and Trust Company, Madison County Library, and a few churches.
- Prepared Food Vendors: The Berea Farmers Market Board wanted to diversify their vendors in order to increase attendance and attract customers who were looking for a quick local meal while shopping. Staying true to their mission of protecting the local food system, the board passed a policy allowing prepared food vendors only if the majority of their ingredients come directly from the farmers market or are homegrown.
Now families can plan an afternoon of family fun and music, swing by the library, grab some lunch and a free meal for their kids, learn how to cook a new vegetable, and taste a new dish, all while shopping for their weekly grocery list.