Vendors and consumers alike fill Memorial Auditorium on a sunny Saturday morning. Tables of organic foods, rows of fresh produce, locally produced cheeses and syrups, and homemade crafts and jewelry are displayed throughout the room. A small stage is host to the performer of the day.
The Burlington Farmers’ Market held its first official market day in the summer of 1980, says current market manager Chris Wagner. “Before that, there had been a few sporadic gatherings, but it wasn’t anything big,” Wagner says. The desire of a group of nearby farmers and the growing popularity of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and farmers’ markets led to the creation of the Burlington Farmers’ Market.
Clothing stores, restaurants, and street performers lined the cobblestone Church Street, which was growing increasingly popular and developed in the ‘80s. Wagner says that the market wanted to be close to Church Street and the commercial home of Burlington, so it was only natural that the market found its first home nearby the growing metropolis. The market settled down in the town center right off Church Street until it was forced to relocate when the center was turned into a shopping mall. Losing its location, the market spread out along sidewalks until finally making its way to City Hall Park on College Street. Wagner says that this year, the market plans to expand to St. Paul Street as well.
For more than half of its existence, the market was a summer and autumn event, open every Saturday morning from early May through late October. Wagner says that for a while when it first opened, the market tried to hold a “weekday market” on Wednesdays, but it wasn’t successful. In response to positive customer feedback, a winter farmers’ market was created. Started four years ago, the indoor winter market runs every other Saturday from November through April. This market is held at Memorial Auditorium, located on the corner of South Union Street and Main Street, a short walk from the location of its outdoor summer counterpart. Both the outdoor and the indoor markets are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m during their given months.
“In the beginning, it was definitely just agriculture."
Vendors at the farmers’ market consist of both agriculture and craft businesses, though agriculture outweighs the crafts.
“In the beginning, it was definitely just agriculture,” Wagner says. The market mainly focused on selling local foods such as meat, cheese, veggies, and syrup. “Then the market went through a moment in the late ‘80s. It became really heavy on crafts because there are so many amazing craft vendors around here.” Wagner says the market did not want to turn into a crafts fair, and in order to remain a true agricultural farmers’ market, they made a rule that only 30 percent of vendors can sell crafts and the rest agriculture.
Joanne Kalisz moved to Vermont in 2003, and stumbled upon the Burlington Farmers’ Market one Saturday as she was walking downtown. Coming from a family of small-business owners, Kalisz had recently created a business of her own, Happy Fantastic Designs, named after her dog. Kalisz’s business sells homemade apparel and accessories for men, women, children and babies. She says she was interested in becoming part of the farmers’ market, but due to the limitation policy on craft vending, she wasn’t able to join until the summer of 2010.
“From a business standpoint, what drew me to the market was the fact that it’s like a well-oiled machine.” Kalisz says. “It’s managed very well.” She says the process of picking vendors is very fair, and that the market team makes decisions in the best interest of the market and its vendors.
“Then the market went through a moment in the late ‘80s. It became really heavy on crafts because there are so many amazing craft vendors around here."
Kalisz says she enjoys being a vendor for the farmers’ market, and is sad when she has to miss it. “I have to be pretty sick to miss the farmers’ market,” she says. “Even my friends know if it’s farmers’ market Saturday, I can’t do anything fun because I love being there.”
Kyle Burroughs and his girlfriend Julia Whitaker started their business, Wholey Cacao, in January 2011. They sell raw, organic hand-made chocolate products including chocolate truffles and chocolate-covered Goji berries. Burroughs found out about the farmers’ market from living in Burlington and saw it as a way to get exposure and sell products. “There was no other raw organic chocolate or any other chocolate at the farmers’ market,” Burroughs says.
Aside from being a unique vendor, Burroughs also likes being able to trade products with the other vendors. “One of the biggest perks besides the selling is just having all those farmers in one place and being able to trade for products,” Burroughs says.
“From a business standpoint, what drew me to the market was the fact that it’s like a well-oiled machine. "
From a business standpoint, what drew me to the market was the fact that it’s like a well-oiled machine.
Chris Wagner, market manager, greets customers as they enter Memorial Auditorium and answers questions they may have. Wagner has been manager for five years and says he enjoys talking with the customers and vendors.
Since it has first opened, the market has really gained attention and become more popular. Kalisz says that during her time being part of the market as a vendor and a customer, she has noticed that more people have been coming. She has also noticed that more people are coming earlier and wanting to stay later.
Wagner, who has been manager for five years, has also seen an increase in the number of people and vendors that attend. When he first started, Wagner only received about 30 applications from aspiring vendors. This year, he has received 75 applications for the summer market. He also managed to do a head count of the people attending the farmers’ market in August 2011, and found that over 5,000 people had attended.
With nothing to do on a sunny or even cloudy Saturday, walking around the farmers’ market gives people a sense of family. Dogs wander around on leashes with their owners in tow. People gather together and have friendly conversations, talking to one another and the business owners. “The sense of community goes hand in hand with the farmers’ market,” Kalisz says. “You really get the sense that people care about each other.”
Wagner says working there is very rewarding. “Getting involved in the food scene here in Burlington led me to the farmers’ market,” says Wagner. “Some of my best friends are now vendors from the market.”
“You really get the sense that people care about each other."
Burroughs agrees that the Burlington Farmers’ Market is a good way to make connections. “I think it’s a great way to go directly to the source and make friendships with where you get your food from. You directly support the people.”
If you were to be a vendor at the Burlington Farmers’ Market, what items would you want to sell? Would you rather be a craft or agriculture vendor?