COLUMBIA -Since 1980, the Columbia Farmers Market has brought local vendors and shoppers together on Saturday mornings. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, the parking lot between the Columbia ARC and West Middle School is filled with white tents.
Due to its growing popularity, the Columbia Farmers Market has plans to expand in the next years. The new Agriculture Park will have a year-round covered facility, an interactive urban farm, an outdoor playground, multi-purpose building and an outdoor recreational trail.
“Expansion of the Columbia Farmers Market will support more local farmers and make fresh food more accessible to families in our community,” Executive Director Corrina Rhea Smith said. “A larger building to protect farmers and shoppers from the weather will allow for future expansion of the market to: host more farmers, be open more days of the week, stay open later, stay in the same location year-round and ultimately get more healthy food to more customers. The market’s expansion will also mean an increase in matching dollars available to families with low-incomes.”
In 2010, the Columbia Farmers Market began accepting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits through EBT cards. Though Missouri farmers markets aren’t authorized to accept WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) benefits, recipients can apply for the matching program.
“Our first matching program, Access to Healthy Foods, is ran through our sister organization, Sustainable Farms and Communities,” Smith said. “Through their funding, we offer families that have kids 19 and under, that are on SNAP or WIC up to $25 matching dollars per week. “
SNAP users can swipe their EBT cards for double the swipe value, and WIC users provide a cash match that is exchanged for tokens to spend at the market.
“Additionally, starting this year, we now also offer Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB),” Smith said. “DUFB is a national matching program, where can additionally swipe up to $25 per market, and they receive matching dollars that they can spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. So, most SNAP recipients can receive up to $50 bonus dollars every Saturday.”
Smith says local farmers markets play an important role in the community.
“The Columbia Farmers Market offers a community gathering place that is rare to find these days,” Smith said. “Columbians come every week and interact directly with the farmers growing their food, as well as other Columbians.”
Smith also says access to local, healthy food and providing a market where dollars go directly into the community are important benefits of a local farmers market.
There are 76 registered vendors this year, with a cap of 80. Potential and returning members must submit an application to the board every year.
“As long as returning vendors remain in good-standing status, they are welcomed back,” Smith said. “When reviewing new applicants we look at what types of products the market already has, and what it needs. We try to make sure there is a wide variety of products, and not too much of the same thing.”
All vendors must be located within a 50-mile radius of the market, and the board limits the number of artisan vendors each year to 20 percent.
“Artisan vendors are ones that are selling items that they made, but did not grow/raise anything that is in it,” Smith said. “For example, our coffee vendor does not grow the coffee beans, but he roasts them, and makes the coffee at market to sell. Or a baked goods vendor did not grow the flour, but made the bread.”
While artisan vendors are allowed, the Columbia Farmers Market defines itself as a producers-only market.
“Meaning that everyone must grow, raise or make what they sell. Reselling of products is strictly forbidden,” Smith said. “Our market board, volunteer vendors and myself inspect all of our vendors to ensure that they are growing the food that they sell. We focus more on edible products rather than arts and crafts, though they aren’t forbidden. Some vendors supplement their tables with things like jewelry, pottery, paintings, etc., but their majority of products are agricultural.”