Incentives and Investments Give New Nevada Market a Head Start
Posted On: April 15, 2009
Challenges abound for any new market just starting out. One of FMC’s newest members, the Carson City Farmers Market (CCFM), just launched last year and has thus far met with surprisingly speedy success. FMC recently interviewed market manager Linda Marrone, who took the lead role in starting the market, a project of the Carson City Office of Business Development.
Marrone is no stranger to the food industry; since the early 1990s, she has worked variously as a restaurant owner, caterer, waitress, food columnist, and packing house worker in California. She also grew up gardening throughout childhood. But not until joining and volunteering at a CSA more than ten years ago did she really appreciate first-hand the work that goes into food production. “Working on the farm and with them over the course a few years gave me a huge appreciation of how hard farmers work for not much pay. It made the restaurant business look like a piece of cake.”
Last March, Marrone was asked by the Carson City Office of Business Development (OBD) to help them get a farmers market up and running by the end of June. The time frame, it goes without saying, was one of the biggest challenges in starting the market. “All the research said we should have started six months to a year earlier. We had fewer than three months, and there was already a 13 year old, highly profitable market in Reno. There are only so many farmers to go around, and they were spreading themselves pretty thin as it was. Convincing them to come to our market without any kind of track record was a hard sell.”
So how did they do it? Perseverance and existing relationships with area farmers were key. She visited area markets in Reno, Minden, Tahoe, and Fallon, but was also selective. “I didn’t want a lot of them selling the same kinds of produce and veggies. I wanted the ones who got along well with each other.”
Even with such a tight turnaround, the Carson City Farmers Market soon had twelve farmers, three bakeries, a coffee house, a local caterer, a flower grower, two jewelers, and a handful of other niche and nonprofit vendors on board. In its first year, the market had eight Nevada growers, a state record unmatched by even the larger markets with more than 70 vendors. Product areas CCFM still hopes to fill include cheese, meats, and berries. The current strawberry grower comes from Watsonville, California, a five hour drive.
What may have been the real driver in such successful recruitment was the fact that the market waived the booth rental space, which was originally set for $20 per day, offering it to the vendors as a “gas rebate” when the price spiked to $4.00/gallon. This was possible because the Carson City Office of Business Development underwrote all the expenses of the market, including the purchase of a wheelchair accessible portable restroom (in which the market put fresh flowers each week), a storage pod that stays on site in the city parking lot, weekly advertising, signage, supplies, umbrellas, tables with seating, and, most importantly, a manager salary for 30 hours/week during the season. The neighboring Trader Joe’s also sponsored the market through in-kind advertising and promotion, offering samples at market and inserting market flyers in all its customers’ bags at the store.
One lesson learned in the first season is that far fewer customers than expected took advantage of the “Veggie Valet” service, though the bike valet was much more popular. “So many people road their bikes to the market that it was great to have a safe and secure place to park them.” Another perk for consumers, considering the dry hot climate, was free ice water provided by a neighboring restaurant and made available in five gallon dispensers. Musicians played for free in exchange for the ability to accept tips and sell their CDs.
Was launching a market so quickly easy? No. “I never worked so hard in my entire life as I did last summer.” In 2009, the market will forgo at least a portion of the vendor fees again as a way to keep farmers and other producers committed and loyal to the market in what might be a tougher economic climate. Within five years, the city plans for the market to be financially sustainable with limited in-kind municipal support. The market just established a board, and will operate under the umbrella of the nonprofit Carson City Consortium.
Marrone credits the Nevada Certified Farmers Market Association for a lot of technical assistance during the development phase. She worked with Ann Louhela (Executive Director) and Rick Lattin (President) of NCFMA, who supplied her with the list of all the farmers that she used for recruitment mailings. “Ann had been doing some start-up markets in Reno, and any time she had a lead she shared it with me.” As it turns out, Linda now has a chance to return the favor: she was elected Vice-President of NCFMA and looks forward to helping other markets grow and thrive.
Learn more about the Carson City Farmers Market on-line at http://www.downtowncarsoncity.com/FarmersMarket.html.