Ridgway Farmers Market recognized as September 2022 RACC Member of the Month
How did the market get its start?
The Ridgway Farmers Market was formed in early 2000 by Jane Bennett. The first market was held on Sunday, July 9, 2000 ,at the Ouray County Fairgrounds. In 2012, the market migrated to its current location in Hartwell Park.
The market managed to be held in 2020 and 2021 through the pandemic. What did you learn through that experience that has strengthened your organization?
During the pandemic we worked closely with not only Ouray County Public Health, specifically Tanner Kingery who was a huge help, but also we closely followed the recommendations put forth by the Colorado Farmers Market Association. The Ridgway Farmers Market Board met frequently and worked diligently to put together guidelines and regulations (that were constantly evolving) with our goal always being to provide the community with a safe and healthy environment to procure local foods and other essential items.
I think that one lesson that was reaffirmed during the pandemic was the power of community. The market provided an outdoor space, albeit with six-foot distancing, where friends, neighbors and tourists alike could come together on a weekly basis. It was a testament to the power of community to witness everyone following the rules put forth for the greater good of the community so that we could maintain a safe environment for patrons to have access to local, fresh foods during a time of great uncertainty. It really brought us back to our roots as a market, as a community hub for food and local agriculture. We realized we didn't need a lot of bells and whistles, but that in the beauty of Hartwell Park, the market was still dynamic and vibrant even without music, without being able to offer samples, and with everyone in masks.
Please tell us a bit about what it takes to hold the market every week for five months annually.
The market has grown tremendously over the past couple of years, and we are fortunate in that most vendors find us through our website, social media and word-of-mouth! Our application opens in early January, and the market manager reviews applications and works to curate a market that has a nice balance between food producers, craftspeople and artists. The market attracts new vendors each year, but we have a solid foundation of repeat vendors that have participated previously, some for many, many years.
The market has one paid employee, the market manager, who runs the market each Friday, making sure that things go smoothly. This person also does all marketing and promotion of the market. The volunteer board assists on an as needed basis. After the first few weeks of market when everyone has settled in and become familiar with the flow of things, the market almost runs itself. My goal as market manager is to create a welcoming, inclusive space where community members and visitors can gather to comfortably listen to music, grab a bite to eat for breakfast or lunch, and do their shopping for the week.
How many vendors are there each week, and what is the variety of products offered?
On average, about 60 vendors are present at the market each week. We have about 55 seasonal vendors every week and a few daily, visiting vendors who pop in from time to time. The daily vendors rotate throughout the season so there is always something new for locals and visitors alike. Vendors travel from Grand Junction, Montrose, Cedaredge, Paonia, Silverton, Durango, and beyond to attend our market.
We aim to have a breakdown of 40% food vendors (produce, prepared foods or other food items) and 60% arts and crafts. Honestly, there is such a diversity of vendors offering products such as fruits, vegetables and flowers; sustainable meats and eggs; homemade jams and other canned goods; honey; coffee; teas; natural body care items; jewelry; pottery; arts; crafts; food trucks; baked goods; and more. We also oftentimes have one or two nonprofit organizations with booths.
What do you wish more people knew about the market?
We are a producer-only market! Everything sold at our market is grown or produced by the person selling it (or an employee of theirs). It's pretty cool, I think, that all of the products at market are unique to our Western Slope area.
Also, we accept EBT for SNAP vouchers and offer Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program. We also accept WIC vouchers. As a market we are committed to making local, healthy foods accessible to as many people as possible.
Our goal is to become zero-waste. This year we created a policy in which vendors can no longer use single-use plastic in point-of-sale transactions (we are exempt from the Town of Ridgway ordinance as we are considered a special event). We are planning on building upon this next year. We also have composting receptacles available in the southeastern corner of the park for biodegradable trash items.
What is coming up for the last several weeks of the market this year?
The market will stay in full swing until the second Friday in October: October 14th. We will have bands performing each week including Jeff Brown, Jill Cohn, Jedi George, Dean Bonzani, and Mojo! (For our entertainment calendar go to: https://www.ridgwayfarmersmarket.com/entertainment-calendar. We will also continue to have daily visiting vendors up until the final market. Some highlights include: MacClaine Eclectic, Jagged Edge Mountain Gear, Snow Moon Flower Studio, and Lori Ruiz Watercolor.
As fall arrives, patrons of the market can also anticipate new foods popping up. We'll be in full-on apple season, and vegetables such as winter squash, leeks, celery root, etc. will start making an appearance. Right now is an especially magical time to be shopping the market. Before the first freeze arrives, summer overlaps with fall and there is such an abundance and diversity of produce. It's a great time to be stocking up for the cold months and doing canning, fermenting and freezing at home.
What do you value most about being a Ridgway Chamber member?
We love supporting and being a member of the chamber as it brings us closer to and keeps us connected to the happenings, businesses and organizations in our sweet little town. It's all about keeping it local and supporting one another in our community.
To check out Ridgway Farmers Market, visit Hartwell Park any Friday from just before Memorial Day until the second Friday in October each year. Learn more at www.ridgwayfarmersmarket.com, email , or call 573-864-5504.
For information about culinary experiences in the Ridgway area, go to https://ridgwaycolorado.com/things-to-do/culinary-experiences.