Readers’ Choice 2010 Best Famers Market

Readers’ Choice Best of the Big O: Downtown Farmers Market (Omaha Farmers Market)

Helped at least partly by the growing popularity of the local food movement, the Omaha Farmers Market has grown from having about 20 vendors and a few hundred visitors in 1994 to more than 110 vendors and about 8,000 visitors on an average weekend last summer. Vic Gutman has been through it all, founding the Omaha Farmers Market in 1994 after nearly 30 years of not having a farmers market downtown. This year, it placed 17 in American Farmland Trust’s America’s Favorite Farmer’s Markets poll of markets with 50 or more vendors. The Omaha Farmers Market underwent two major changes this year. First, the Downtown Farmers Market expanded to 11th Street, from Jackson to Howard. Then, another Omaha Farmers Market location opened at Aksarben Village on Sundays. Although Gutman says he talked about opening another location for almost eight years, the decision to open at Aksarben Village was made merely five weeks before its opening last May. “We wanted to find the right location and atmosphere,” Gutman says. The location of a park (Stinson) and a local grocery store (Wohlner’s) were two major factors in selecting Aksarben Village. About 60 vendors were usually on hand for the Sunday market, Gutman said. Though the market closed in October, the Aksarben location will reopen Dec. 4-5. German food, hot-spiced wine and crafts will be sold for the German Christmas market-inspired event. When the Omaha Farmers Market first opened downtown in 1994, few Old Market stores were open on Saturday morning. “It was kind of lonely,” Gutman says. Now, restaurants and art galleries are open. Gutman said he spoke with owners of the Upstream Brewing Company to serve food at its Old Market location during the Farmers Market. This year, chefs from other Old Market restaurants set up booths and gave cooking demonstrations during the summer. Authors like Michael Pollan have encouraged people to eat locally grown food, citing the practice’s reduced carbon footprint (less of distance for food to travel), improved nutritional quality and economic practice of supporting local growers. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Pollan encouraged the government to enact rules where farmers markets could accept Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards for low-income citizens. Next year, the Omaha Farmers Market will begin accepting EBT cards, Gutman says. “We’re very committed to the community,” he says. This year, the Omaha Farmers Market partnered with Together, Inc. to donate food to the needy. Vendors and patrons were encouraged to donate their produce items. More than 1,300 pounds of food was donated during the drive, which was held Aug. 7-8. The growing popularity of farmers markets has helped attendance, but Gutman says the reason for the Omaha Farmers Market’s success was that people have an intimate relationship with their food and enjoy eating as a social outlet. Establishing a bond between the buyer and the producer just makes that relationship to food all the more personable, Gutman says. “They (buyers) have developed a strong bond with the grower,” Gutman says.

posted at 03:42 pm
on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

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