Volunteers and input will determine fate of this year’s Farmers’ Market in Lansing

Main Street Lansing Executive Director Andy Kelleher released the following statement on determining the future of the Farmers’ Market held in Lansing this year:

In the past, Main Street Lansing has held its farmers’ market in the Main Street Plaza. Over the past couple years, we have received a suggestion to relocate the farmers’ market to Lioness Park (the green space next to the sports complex, where the gazebo is located).

Reasons supporting the move include better parking, easier access, more shade, and more room for expansion. Reasons against a move include lack of foot traffic and lack of visibility. Every time we have received this suggestion, we have discussed it with both the Main Street Lansing Board of Directors and the vendors themselves; both groups have always been in agreement that the benefits of foot traffic and visibility far outweighed any other considerations, and therefore decided to remain in the Main Street Plaza.

However, these discussions took place before COVID-19. Current social distancing requirements would be difficult to impossible to follow within the confines of the Main Street Plaza. Because of this, it is worthwhile to consider a move to Lioness Park out of necessity. But we cannot do this without a volunteer or team of volunteers.

Currently, Main Street Lansing does not have a volunteer who has been willing to manage the farmers’ market. As such, we take a relatively passive approach to the market. Vendors contact us to participate, and we publish the market in free area event calendars. We place a flag advertising the market, and we promote it on Facebook.

Without a dedicated volunteer, we do not have the capacity to do any more than that.

If we were to move to a new location, we would need a volunteer/team of volunteers to make the transition a success. These volunteers would need to secure permission from City Hall to use their park. These volunteers would need to actively recruit vendors to give purpose to the space for expansion. These volunteers would need to advertise the location change. These volunteers would need to heavily promote the market. I’m sure locals would quickly learn about the new location, but nobody else would know; Lioness Park is not visible from Main Street nor from the Great River Road, so unless someone knows what they are looking for, they would never find it.

To help advertise and promote the market, these volunteers would likely need to purchase advertisements. Currently, the farmers’ market does not generate any revenue, because we do not charge vendors to participate. To have money for advertising, these volunteers would need to either charge vendors or find a way to fundraise the costs. If these volunteers choose to charge vendors, they would likely need to implement rules for vendors; right now we typically allow anyone who sells food and decline anyone with live animals. On top of that, there are the current COVID-19 restrictions from Governor Reynolds, which place restrictions on seating, products that can be sold, and spacing between vendors.

That may seem like a lot, but it can be done, and we have a great regional example. Elkader implemented a similar change last summer, relocating their farmers’ market from the main downtown intersection to a park a few blocks away. Their reasons were much the same: safer access, room for expansion, etc. They faced the same problems of visibility and lack of foot traffic, but they overcame them with dedicated volunteers. They had people promoting the space. They had people working with vendors. They had people who were pushing out information weekly. And by all accounts, they were successful.

As it stands, we have two options for this year’s farmers’ market. Either dedicated individuals agree to manage the market and transition it to a new location, or we do not have a farmers’ market. The greatest ideas in the world don’t mean anything if no one is willing to implement them.

In past years, vendors haven’t started arriving until July, so there is some time to make a change happen. If you have any interest in volunteering for the farmers’ market, please contact Main Street Lansing at 563-538-9229 or director@lansingmatters.com.

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