I have been waiting for the actual announcement by the USDA, so as not to offend the gods of funding.
The Vermillion Area Farmers Market, which I helped head up for the past eight years (until abandoning my old comrades for the sunny eastern shores of Big Stone Lake this September) was awarded a Farmers Market Promotion Program grant for $51,142.
This is not a huge market. This is the plucky little market that could. I remember well the days of arriving on scene to set up all those (impossibly heavy wooden) signs before setting up my own table, grumbling under my breath about whether this was all really worth it.
[I think there’s only one of those signs remaining–the smallest of the three. I know that one of them “mysteriously” disappeared in a fire I asked someone to set.]
Then other vendors would start showing up–maybe just two or three in those earlier days–and I would be buoyed up by cameraderie and ready to do it all again the next week. And the next week. And the next. And…
The point is, we started small. We started very small, and we started in some out-of-the-way locations where occasionally a vendor or two would almost get run over by a passing car that circumvented our barricades. We used our big zucchini for signage, too (OK–maybe that still happens–what the heck else do you do with all of them?).
But we held on, and we grew a little year-by-year, and we finally got ourselves into a great location with some great management (my happiest day ever!). We gained a reputation as a friendly and welcoming market for vendors, and our vendors brought others with their word of mouth.
Our customers didn’t shy away from trying new things–and many of them didn’t even shy away from the cold and rainy days when vendors would huddle under their pop-up tents and shiver. We even had customers help (well, try to) rescue a vendor’s tent from collapsing under a complete downpour. Which meant actually standing out in it.
And then we became the first market in either Dakota to accept debit and EBT as payment options.
If you look through that grant announcement, you’ll see there are a lot more funds going out for markets with new EBT programs than existing ones. And that’s because not that many farmers market EBT programs exist–even in states much more populous than little ol’ SoDak.
Yep–we were groundbreaking then, and in my opinion, the VAFM will continue to break new ground. And now they’ll have (among other things) much lighter-weight (and somewhat less perishable) signs to do it with.
If you’re from there or in the area, I hope to see you at the not-quite-end-of-season annual potluck Harvest Dinner on Saturday, October 23 from 5-7pm at the National Guard Armory (you know, where you go to vote).
I think I’ve still got some kale and potatoes out in the gardens to make a dish!
I stole these images from the VAFM Facebook group, which you should probably be a member of. Just sayin’.