Jessica Jasperson, MSUM Mass Communications and English
FARGO, N.D. — Those searching for less-traveled foods search no longer.
For over 30 years the Farmers’ Market at Dike East Park has been dedicated to providing Fargo-Moorhead residents with fresh and locally grown foods on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from June through October.
The average trip food takes from the farm to the dinner table in America is 1,500 to 2,000 miles according to Worldwatch Institute.
At grocery stores and super stores, the odds are not in the consumers’ favor. Foods shipped from other countries or even within the contiguous U.S. are not as fresh as those grown close to home.
Consumers expect the answers of who, what, when, where and why when buying their fresh fruits and vegetables, because of the high rates of pesticides and genetically modified organisms used to mass-produce products.
The Farmers’ Market is special, because all vendors have to grow or make their food within 60 miles of Fargo. If a consumer expects answers, he or she will certainly get them from the farmers.
Farmers and customers show up consistently
Bill Halverson guards his wife’s homemade jellies, salsas and BBQ sauces swatting at bees who dare to land within an arm’s length.
Halverson has been at the market for close to 25 years. He started out selling vegetables like his fellow vendors, who he calls friends today. Now that his children are grown and out of the house, he and his wife have taken to canning.
Halverson enjoys meeting a diverse crowd of people from all over the world who attend the market.
“It’s nice, you know. It’s interesting to talk to people that are not carbon copies of ourselves,” Halverson said smiling. “They all tend to buy different things. You kind of get to know they’re coming for this and they’re coming for that.”
Throughout the years, Halverson has gotten on a first-name basis with many of his customers and even their children.
“After 20-something years a lot of them aren’t here anymore, but their kids come down. You see a lot of the same faces,” Halverson said.
Not only the customers are dedicated, but also the vendors who are present rain or shine – flood or frost. They do not miss market days and they try their best to stay until Halloween if the weather permits.
“Customers expect it and you’re here all year, so you try to stay until the end,” Halverson said.
However, once October rolls around some days are just too cold for fresh food to be outside. If the market is closed for part of the day or an entire day because of cold temperatures, they give adequate notice on Facebook.
Farmers supply what a grocery store cannot
Austin Wittmier, “Veggie Pro,” has been working at the Farmers’ Market for 12 years as a significant part of Bill Erbes Farms, which has had a stand for 27 years. Their slogan on the back of their business card is, “Know your Farmer know your Food,” something Wittmier believes you cannot get at a grocery store.
For a supermarket or traditional grocery store, food is highly based on how much of a product sells, not on the customers’ feedback. Therefore, employees do not need to know where it came from, how long ago it was picked or what it’s been treated with or without. The market has a completely opposite state of mind.
“This is our life – this is our livelihood,” Wittmier said. “For us, we have to know the ins and outs of what we’re planting and what we’re growing ‘cause people want to know. Today’s consumers really want to be more informed about what they’re eating and what’s going into their body.”
Wittmier also notes that the market is set up where they cannot price gouge their competition. Goods are sold based on their quality.
“People don’t have to shop from us … but I can guarantee our stuff is going to be better,” Wittmier said. “It’s a quality control thing for us and it’s why the market has been around so long-we meet supply and demand.”
An atmosphere that harvests one-on-one conversations
Thirty years of market experience has given Jim Driscoll, of Driscoll Farms, plenty of time to build personal relationships with his customers. He has also seen the popularity among certain vegetables and fruits.
This season, many of his customers have been buying produce they can juice such as kale, swiss chard, beets and carrots. Driscoll knows this from witnessing the one-on-one conversations between regulars at the market.
Recipe swapping, a rendezvous at the market and conversation back and forth also occurs regularly.
Wittmier’s favorite part of the Farmers’ Market is the interaction with customers and their interaction with each other.
“At a grocery store it’s very formal, it’s very structured, very robotic,” Wittmier said. “People don’t ask questions of each other because you’re all strangers.”
He also swears by the small things they do which make shopping at the market a personal experience, such as saving 12 ears of freshly picked sweet corn for a customer. Appreciation from customers for their products is all these vendors really strive for.
“There are those days where you wonder why you’re doing it when the weathers not cooperating, crops aren’t cooperating, customers aren’t cooperating,” Wittmier said. “When people come back to you and say, ‘thank you for what you’re doing and this is the best whatever they picked I’ve ever had,’ I say okay this was worth it.”
(Edited by Megan Hsiang, MSUM Mass Communications Major)