Kokomo Downtown Farmers’ Market (KDFM), Kokomo, IN
Years in Farmers Market Field: 8
I was born and raised in Kokomo, Indiana. I am the daughter of factory workers but had farming in my blood from grandparents and great grandparents on both sides. I grew up walking through fields and playing in gardens and eating fresh, tasty food right out of the ground thinking it was how everyone ate, but I never considered any kind of career in agriculture. As a college student I worked as a grant writer for IUPUI School of Engineering and Technology, I interned in a museum in Washington, DC, spent three summers learning about native plants at a restoration nursery, worked in a local library, and finally, after first earning a degree in English, I set about to get a teaching license. Throughout all of this searching and growing up, I had the pleasure of moving around quite a bit and living in DC, Seattle, and Oakland, CA, where I first discovered farmers’ markets.
I was a fan right away.
In 2001, some forward-thinking people in my hometown started the first Kokomo Farmers’ Market, and a few years later, after I moved back to Kokomo, I started selling my handmade soap there. The City of Kokomo is known for entrepreneurship–the first mass-produced automobile, stoplight, corn picker, and can of tomatoes all came from here and I felt like the market was a place that spirit of innovation could return with a handful of rugged farmers, makers full of interesting ideas, and hippie couples selling flowers and artisan breads. I felt totally at home and like big things were just waiting to happen at the market. After a couple seasons though, I left the market for my “”real job”” of teaching kindergarteners. I definitely missed it.
That real job was great, but due to an economic downturn, my position was eliminated. I made one of the best decisions of my life and returned to the KDFM as a vendor. Shortly thereafter, I was nominated to the board of directors and within months offered the job of market master. I accepted, thinking it would be “”fun””, and it was, but it has also proven to be one of the most stressful, challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. My years as an educator could not have been more valuable: I learned to meet people where they are on their path, to be organized, to think way outside the box, to be supportive, to help diverse personalities get along, to motivate people, and to be committed to helping people succeed. Those big things I envisioned are happening at the market now, from farm-to-fork fundraisers and wellness education to cooking demonstrations and our success in increasing SNAP use at the market, and so much more. We’re working together and partnering with other local organizations to make a difference, strengthening the local food system and our local economy, providing new avenues for farmers, makers, and bakers to get their products to customers, helping those in need, providing a pretty amazing little celebration of our city every week, and making sure more people actually do eat the freshest, tastiest food right out of the ground.
The major obstacles I see to growth of farmers’ markets nationwide is a lack of funding for adequate, full-time management teams that can plan and innovate, the lack of support and training for overburdened small farmers who struggle with “doing it all” as market farmers, and rapid growth in the number of markets without strategy or cooperation between markets.
Also a member of Hoosier Farmers’ Market Association and Eat Fresh Howard County.