Not only are there two farmers' markets on the same day, but they're less than a mile away from each other.
Every Saturday morning, two farmers' markets open for sale at the same time in Columbia. To a lot of Columbians, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. The town is not so large that it demands two markets just a half mile apart. Moreover, there's some confusion about who is who, a situation that's not helped by their nondescript names: Columbia Farmers Market, Boone County Farmers Market. Probably both markets would benefit if they merged into one, but those who remember know that's not likely to happen. Not after what happened 10 years ago.
More than thirty years ago Columbia created its first farmers market, eventually named Columbia Farmers Market. The band of local vendors prospered for 12 years before they were forced to relocate from their nice spot under a pavilion at the old Boone County Fairgrounds, now the site of the ARC. They ended up in a parking lot at the Parkade Plaza, between Business Loop and I-70 next to Ellis Fischel. Many remember it as an awful time where the sun beat down on them week after week. The pop-up tents that are ubiquitous in farmers' markets around the country had not come into common use yet, so makeshift tarps and patio umbrellas had to do. The way some people tell the story, this was when the farmers' market decided to look into building a permanent structure where the vendors could have stability and shelter.
Columbia Farmers' Market was a registered non-profit, and so it was governed by a board made up entirely of vendors and farmers. They designated a small committee to look into the idea of designing and fundraising for a permanent structure. That committee researched, made connections, attracted some good minds, and eventually grew into an independent non-profit organization in itself, now known as Sustainable Farms and Communities. In addition to fundraising for a permanent structure, Sustainable Farms and Communities wanted to develop outreach and education programs that would promote sustainability and prop up the local food system. Now it was more than just an extension of the Farmers' Market board. It had its own board, with members from farms, the university and also the city government.
Eventually, Sustainable Farms and Communities actually took over the lease that Columbia Farmers Market used to hold.
A sizable group of vendors within the market began to feel this was not the market for them. They didn't like that this new entity had non-farmer members on the board, and they had little interest in the food politics that it wanted to further. 10 years ago, one night before the invasion of Iraq in late March, about half of the vendors decided to secede. That summer they formed a non-profit of their own called Boone County Farmers Market and set up shop in the parking lot of the Boone County Health Department.
The break was sudden and traumatic to the growing market. Both sides described it as a family squabble--one which never quite resolved. But these wounds are historical now, and whatever rivalries there were seem to have diminished. The two markets continue on peacefully, but not together.
This week on CoMo Explained we tell the tale of two markets. Listen to the podcast by hitting the link above or check us out on the iTunes store. New episodes from Scott and Ryan every Wednesday.