Columbia Farmers Market fosters community, provides accessible organic produce

The Columbia Farmers Market unites the community through locally-grown food from a variety of vendors.

What began over 40 years ago as a few farmers selling produce from their pickup trucks at gas stations has flourished into an accessible fresh-food source and social hub for the mid-Missouri community. From produce to baked goods to handmade soaps, the Columbia Farmers Market is home to a variety of local vendors and attracts consumers throughout the state.

Every Saturday morning, regulars and newcomers flock to the pavilion at Columbia Agriculture Park to shop for locally grown products. The farmer’s market is one of the most accessible and reliable sources for organic foods in the area, long-time market vendor Jeannie Nobis said. It attracts a wide range of buyers and sellers that want to engage in healthy lifestyles and explore what local producers have to offer.

“All the produce is picked on Friday so it’s fresh on Saturday morning,” Nobis said. “You don’t get that from the store.”

The importance of purchasing locally-grown products is deeper than just supporting the community’s producers. According to Corrina Smith, the Columbia Farmers Market executive director, using local farmers markets as a primary source of food and other products can be an easy way to limit one’s carbon footprint and promote animal welfare.

In addition to fresh produce and locally grown products, the market offers a variety of programs and entertainment to create a weekly event for residents and vendors to look forward to. It fosters a family-friendly environment that provides a space to socialize with other customers and vendors, all while supporting local businesses, honey vendor Steve Moeller said.

“We set tables up,” Nobis said. “People will sit, eat, drink, watch the live music, or just visit with people for hours.”

There are stations to entice market-goers of all kinds. The market features a food education program for children, a coffee truck stationed outside the pavilion and a deli stand that makes sandwiches on-demand. Whether patrons come to buy groceries, socialize, eat breakfast or simply to become more involved in the community, they can do so here.

“Customers enjoy the interactive aspect,” Smith said, “especially being able to engage with the local farmers and to see exactly who they are supporting.”

Not only do the residents of Columbia rave about the market, so do its vendors. The comradery of the market extends beyond the consumer-producer relationship.

“There’s a good sense of community here,” Moeller said. “There’s a good group of diverse vendors here. We’re all kind of like a family.”

Some vendors, like Moeller, have been attending Columbia Farmers Market for a number of years, while others are just starting out. Regardless of the timeline, the large consumer base and friendly environment create an ideal place for farmers to sell their products, Moeller said.

Vendors are very intentional when it comes to pricing their goods as they understand the key role affordability plays in providing accessible options for the public.

“I try to keep my prices reasonable,” Nobis said. “I’ve even been told to raise my prices.”

Although the market has continued to run as scheduled despite the pandemic, they have added an online shop for those who are not comfortable attending. Most vendors and their products are available for online sale and low-contact pick-up on Saturday mornings.

“It’s a good option for those who are at elevated risk for COVID but still want to be able to shop from the market,” Moeller said. “It has given me and other vendors additional sales during the pandemic.”

The Columbia Farmers Market operates every Saturday at 1769 W Ash St. from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Customers and vendors are currently required to wear masks and practice social distancing while browsing.

Edited by Angelina Edwards | aedwards@themaneater.com

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