Monday, June 16, 2014

A Day as a Farmers Market Manager
Written by Roxanne Jungè for the Wagner Tales Spring 2014 Issue

Special note: the Glenview Farmers' Market opens this weekend!

I get a lot of questions about what it is like to run the Glenview Farmers Market, so I thought I would share my story about what a typical day at the farmers market is like.

We run our farmers’ market for 16 or 17 continuous weeks during the season, rain or shine, without any breaks.  Regardless of the weather, crops continue to ripen, workers are already hired, and farmers depend on the market income.

I usually arrive to set up for the farmers market at about 5:30 a.m.  In the early summer, this is the time of day when the sun is just rising and the rooster is crowing.  Come late September, this means I’m arriving in the dark and working with my team of volunteers to turn on the parking lot lights so that the vendors can safely start setting up their booths. If we are setting up over on the farm grounds, then we guide vendors to their spots with flashlights.

The assistant manager (Becky Kotsarelis or Alyssa Weller) arrives soon after I do. We drive the Kubota from the Heritage Center basement to the farmers’ market shed, haul out tables, canopies, chef demonstration stove, banners, signs, hand-washing station, red wagons and other items used during the day.

In order not to disturb neighbors who live adjacent to the market, we don’t start setting up any earlier than 6 a.m.  The first vendors to show up are always the fruit and vegetable growers with their big trucks. These hard-working farmers are the anchor of the Glenview Farmers’ Market. They come from Lincolnshire, Chicago Heights, Michigan and Wisconsin. Some of them need to be on the road as early as 2:30 a.m. It’s no wonder that I often find them dozing in their trucks when I arrive, waiting for setup time to begin. For the first half hour, there are tail-lift or winch trucks letting down palates, and a lot of heavy hoisting going on.

The rest of the food vendors arrive between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. and the market officially opens at 8 a.m. Some of our customers are so dedicated to our vendors and their products that they arrive up to an hour early to shop or pick up orders. Vendors are free to decide if they want to sell to the earlybirds, but I’ve never seen them turn a customer away.

When the basic equipment is out, the assistant manager sets up the wireless EBT system so that we can begin running Link cards (food stamps), while I make the rounds  trouble-shooting, checking in with vendors, and distributing information. Sometimes there are problems; a scheduled vendor doesn’t come, a vendor unknowingly parks in another vendor’s spot, another vendor mistakenly starts to set up in another vendor’s spot. Or the electrical tower circuit blows, a volunteer calls in sick, or the wireless Link machine won’t run correctly.

Once the market is all set up and all the volunteers have arrived, the challenge is to keep the ship sailing smoothly, at least from the customers’ point of view! The assistant manager remains at the Link table, always available for Link customers, while also selling Christine Shiel’s famous brooms. The volunteers and I tend to the needs of the vendors and customers, answer questions, offer helpful handouts at the entrance, take attendance, corral the market red wagons when they get left out in the parking lot, serve as crossing guards between market and farm, facilitate the parking situation during peek hours, assist the chef during the demonstration, and act as hosts for the visiting expert at the Green Table. Without the valuable volunteers, our market would not have the reputation it does among vendors and customers as a super-friendly, smooth-running farmers’ market.

As manager, my morning at the market whizzes by. It’s often difficult to finish any conversation since I am typically interrupted by some need or another: making sure volunteers have the information they need to do their jobs, doing market-development work such as connecting with people who meet me at the market to talk about becoming a vendor, support of some kind, et cetera, and even the occasional media interview.

My favorite activity of the morning is being a cheerleader for the vendors. I buy almost all my groceries at the market and I’m familiar with most products so I try to stop into many of the booths to generate conversation with customers about the products. I am fully dedicated to promoting local-food systems, which I believe is a healthier, more sustainable way of living and connects people back to the source of their food. Since I am a trained teacher, the education part of this is something I love to do, and what customer doesn’t appreciate an opinion from another customer who has already tried a new product?

We choose vendors within a 200-mile radius of Glenview. This year the food bought at our market traveled an average distance of 62 miles, whereas the national average for food bought at grocery stores is 1,500 miles. We choose our vendors based not only on the food they sell, but on whether they are good community members - pleasant with other vendors and customers, and focusing on “keeping it local”.
Besides our regular vendors, we also support local non-profits by giving them space at the market to tell customers about their organization and raise funds, usually by having a bake sale. This past year we were happy to welcome 21 organizations from Boy and Girl Scout Troops to pet rescue.

I am proud of our Green Table, where experts educate customers on other ways they can make their lifestyles more sustainable. It is sponsored by the Park District and the Village of Glenview. In our area there are many people who know so much that can help us. These experts are rounded up by Henrietta Saunders, president of the Natural Resources Commission, and Sheri Latash who is an issues specialist from the Glenview League of Women Voters and a volunteer at the market. From recycling to energy conservation, there is always something to learn at the Green Table.

As the market is winding down by noon, last-minute customers swing into parking spots, hoping to catch a few vendors with produce stilling remaining on their tables.  Vendors start turning in their Link wooden tokens (used as cash by Link card holders) at the Link table for remittance from the Park District. This season there was an average of $823 in tokens per week! I try to swing by each of the vendor booths one last time to say goodbye and allow them an opportunity to give me feedback.

The vendors close down their booths and we take down signs, close up the canopies and take equipment, the Link equipment and any remaining, unsold brooms to the Farm. The assistant manager stays later than I do, with the reckoning and reporting of the day’s Link activity still to be done.

Besides having vendors who bring excellent produce and other products, there is something very special about having the farmers’ market at Wagner Farm. For the last two seasons the teamsters have offered $1 horse-drawn wagon rides during market hours. Whereas many farmers markets need to offer special weekly activities to help bring in customers, we don’t need to do that because... well... there’s a farm to see when you come to our market!How many other farmers’ markets can offer that?!

Todd Price and I work closely on most aspects of the market, and he steps in to take over managing the markets when I am on vacation. Our farmer vendors particularly like to “talk shop” with him when he is there. I am deeply grateful for his support and vision and for the support we receive from the rest of the incredible Wagner Farm staff and the Park District.  

The farmers’ market season is almost upon us, so watch the website for our 2014 lineup of new and returning vendors, and/or sign up for my weekly email update. See you at the market!

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