Tulsa farmers’ markets, both the established and the sprouting, aim to impact the local community. Whether they play a part in the revitalization of downtown or provide commerce centers for local produce growers and foodies in the suburbs, the markets are bridging the gulf between city and country.
Rural/Urban: Blurring the Line
Earlier this year, Donna Vogelpohl thought, “A great place to have a farmers’ market in the middle of the week would be downtown Tulsa.”
Vogelpohl directs and co-manages the Downtown Farmers Market, which sets up at Williams Green Tuesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. She also manages the Jenks Farmers’ Market on the Bridge, which draws residents to the Jenks Pedestrian Bridge parking lot Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.
The Jenks market has grown from two vendors at its founding in 2002 to 13 vendors five years later.
“You have all those captive employees in the buildings, and they don’t have anything better to do on lunch hour,” Vogelpohl said.
Another grower who has also managed markets, Linda Highbarger of Hilltop Honey, co-manages the downtown market.
Vogelpohl, the co-manager, Linda Highbarger of Hilltops Honey of Jenks, approached vendors already established in other markets to benefit from the set-up downtown.
“I chose people who were actual produce growers first. Crafters – and I don’t mean this in a bad way – can be a dime a dozen. Getting people who actually grow is a lot harder,” she said.
Vogelpohl knew early that Williams Green was the perfect place to hold the market.
“There are about 35,000 people who work down here, and they will be given an opportunity to walk out of their buildings and walk right in and buy something,” said Jim Norton, president of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited a main proponent of the downtown market. “It’s another benefit we’re trying to provide for downtown workers.”
Local Honey, Not Money
Vogelpohl was quite clear when she said the local farmers’ markets are not about money.
“The most successful farmers markets are when you see all the tents up, and you see all your vendors smiling and talking to customers, and everyone is happy,” said Vogelpohl. “I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t put it in dollars.”
Even the Cherry Street Farmers’ Market, the largest in the Tulsa area with 71 vendors, brings just $20,000 annually for the Cherry Street Farmers’ Market Association.
Though the Jenks market is considered a local jewel, the association made $650 last year. Vogelpohl projects the downtown market, media darling though it is, will pull just $2,000 this summer.
“At Cherry Street, I know everybody makes more. But, they also charge more per item.”
“I’m not farming an entire acre,” she said. “Some people at Cherry Street are farming 2-3 acres at a time.”
The Cherry Street Farmers’ Market Association – which manages the nearly 10-year-old Cherry Street Farmers’ Market at 15th Street and Peoria Avenue, is widely considered to be Tulsa’s premier. It is organized as an Oklahoma not-for-profit corporation and is managed by a board of directors roughly split between current vendors and volunteers.
The membership fee runs $25 per year. The vendors also pay the association $20 per Saturday market. Vendors who want to participate Wednesdays in the Brookside market at 41st Street and Peoria Avenue, which falls under the umbrella of the CSFM Association, pay $15. Despite rain, the Brookside Farmers’ Market enjoyed its inaugural opening earlier this month.
“The association only provides a venue and market management for the vendors to sell their products,” said Howard Leleux, president of CSFM. “The only revenue we get are the fees – the $25 per year, or the daily booth fee. Those funds go to advertising, insurance and storage.”
Though the CSFM does not track its vendors’ sales figures, Leleux estimated they top $500,000 annually.
“The Brookside market, which opens Wednesdays, gives farmers a middle-of-the-week market where they can sell their stuff. In many cases, it can double their incomes,” said Leslie Moyer, Brookside market manager and vice president of Sustainable Green Country.
Location – and Marketing
Though more consumers are learning about and choosing farmers’ markets, many could still use a crash course in marketing and public relations.
The Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign, a project coordinated statewide by the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, is “a marketing campaign for local farmers’ markets,” said Moyer.
Sustainable Green Country will serve as the local administrator of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign.
“Farmers markets generally don’t have a lot of money. So, The Food Routes Network, a non-profit organization, has banded together and created this fabulous campaign now being used in 16 other states. The markets can leverage this marketing tool in a shared way.”
The Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign has two goals: first, to convince shoppers to buy at farmers markets and to increase the local food supply; second, to convince institutions like schools, hospitals and nursing homes to buy direct from local farmers. The Oklahoma campaign kicks off in late June, Moyer said.
“Graphically, it’s a beautiful campaign,” she said. “The promotional materials have a consistent logo, and we’ve developed our own graphics specific to Oklahoma, with just the kinds of fruits, vegetables and meats grown here.”
Another goal of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign is to create more visibility for farmers’ markets.
“When you pull into a town, you see signage for libraries, city hall. But farmers’ markets are elusive. Our goal is to get permanent signage for farmers markets, ” said Rita Scott, president of Sustainable Green Country and market manager of The Pearl Farmers’ Market at Sixth Street and Peoria Avenue, enjoying its inaugural summer.
For the Gourmet Chef –
and the CEO’s Wife
Farmers’ markets are intended for everyone’s benefit. Admittedly, they appeal to some audiences more than others.
Customers of the CSFM are “people who have sufficient disposable income to be able to buy specialty foods,” Leleux said.
“And, there are still young people out there who are interested in agriculture, thankfully.”
Vogelpohl said the Jenks market attracts both “older” and “really young, green” people.
Farmers’ markets attract “people interested in ecology, in eating organic. But also, a lot of older people – people who know what a real tomato tastes like,” she said.
The Pearl Farmers’ Market aims to serve the residents of The Pearl District at the grassroots level. It is also Tulsa’s only evening market.
“At our grand opening, sales started at 4 p.m. Most vendors were out of stock within 30 minutes,” Scott said.
“They don’t even have to get in their cars to come here,” Scott said of the Pearl district residents. “We want to help create a livable, walk-able community.”
Because the Pearl Farmers’ Market is near the University of Tulsa and downtown, the market draws students and 9-to-5ers, Scott said.
“Two of the vendors here have prepared meals people can pick up for dinner. We want to help cater to working people.”
Tulsans welcome farmers’ markets with open arms, said Vogelpohl. In fact, Tulsa embraces new farmers’ markets with more readiness than some nearby cities.
Vogelpohl witnessed this hospitality first hand as DTU and the City of Tulsa backed her initiative to found the market downtown. Her vendors noticed Tulsa loves farmers’ markets, too.
A vendor from Durant said, “that at the other market they go to in Norman, they fight the city and the fairgrounds at the same time. They’re an older, more established market, and they’ve got all their little rules. Here, they were really happy with the reception they got.”
The Pearl Farmers’ Market was welcomed with open arms by the residents of The Pearl District, the residents of which look to revitalize its core district.
The Pearl Farmers’ Market already boasts nine vendors after just four weeks of operation. Scott hopes the market grows to accommodate 25 vendors.
The Pearl Farmers’ Market, in coordination with state offices and organizations, aims to accept food stamps, WIC and senior coupons by 2008.
“There is a strong dialogue going on right now where we’re saying, ‘This is what we’d like to happen,’” she said. “What we lack are the electronic devices to place those transactions.”
Though licenses and permits slow the process of establishing new farmers’ markets, Tulsa is more welcoming than some other cities.
“Some other cities asking for requests from farmers’ markets had all kinds of difficulty and questions for us. I was really sweating it – what are they going to say against this? There are a lot of barriers there that shouldn’t be.”
“The neighborhood has very gladly accepted us,” Leleux said. “We have some very faithful customers, and they keep coming back. ?