Baskets of blooming petunias sat out in front of makeshift booths at the opening day of the Greenwood Farmers Market.
Vendors sold early season flowers to the moseying crowds moving through the market’s selection. Bins full of Swiss chard, radishes and other winter vegetables caught the attention of those searching for the limited selection of fresh produce.
On a chilly, wet Saturday morning, the first session of the year for the market was a hit-or-miss proposition for vendors. But over the course of the summer, sellers know that the markets can be a boon.
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For many of those taking part, local farmers markets provide an important source of income that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. As farmers markets have grown in popularity, more and more vendors are taking advantage of a way to directly market to customers.
Farmers can reach people directly with their produce, entice them with samples of fresh cheeses or meats, or sell homemade products such as soap and facial scrubs while answering questions about their methods.
“You have to have an outlet for the product. You have to get it in people’s hands,” said Tim Vanzant, owner of Risin’ Creek Creamery. “Our product fits exactly what a farmers market is about: people want to know where their food is coming from, they want all-natural food that isn’t full of preservatives or hormones.”
Direct-to-consumer sales for farmers are increasing throughout the country. After the most recent U.S. Department of Agricultural Census of Agriculture taken in 2012, more than 144,000 farms reported they were selling their products directly to customers, mostly through farmers markets.
Johnson County reported 44 farms selling directly, compared to 41 in 2007. Those farmers reported more than $324,000 in sales in 2012.
That doesn’t include people selling crafts and other non-farmed products, who have also seen a benefit of the farmers marketplace.
“People really enjoy the all-natural stuff,” said Missy Garrison, who operates the LuvURCoconuts booth at the Greenwood market. “It has surprised me that people look for the all-natural products to use, and want to know the people who made it.”
LuvURCoconuts features handmade skin care products using natural ingredients and essential oils.
Garrison’s daughter, Danielle, started the business in 2012. Over two years, she grew it to include numerous farmers markets throughout central Indiana, including in Greenwood. She also was selling her coconut oil products directly to customers.
“It was her dream and a passion of hers. She had gotten to the point where she was going to several different places, and it was pretty much her full-time job,” Missy Garrison said.
Danielle Garrison died in 2013, and her mother wasn’t going to continue the business. But when her customers reached out pledging their support, Missy Garrison decided to carry it on.
Though LuvURCoconuts does not attend as many markets as in the past, Missy Garrison still attends the Greenwood and Columbus sessions.
“Her sisters wanted to keep doing it, and her clients appreciated it, so I just continued doing it,” she said.
Since 2006, the number of farmers markets has increased 180 percent, with more than 8,000 now available for consumers.
Farmers and small businesses have emerged to fill these markets, even with more and more options for consumers.
The Franklin Farmers Market opened May 14, welcoming its largest number of vendors ever. Organizers signed up 43 producers to take part in the first session this year, said Tara Payne, executive director of Discover Downtown Franklin.
“We have lots of new vendors this year,” she said.
People will be selling everything from nitrogen-cold-brewed coffee to garden decorations to goat milk cheese and caramel sauce.
This is the first year Risin’ Creek Creamery has taken part in the farmers market. The Martinsville-based producers raise and breed goats, using the milk from their animals to create a creamy spreadable Chevre cheese in flavors such as chipotle pepper, Jamaican jerk and herbs de provence.
One of the most popular items is the homemade caramel sauce.
All of the products are made from milk from the farm’s 80-head of mature dairy goats, said Tim Vanzant, who owns the farm with his wife, Sheena.
As a small producer, Risin’ Creek has focused on area farmers markets to sell their goods. They started last year at markets in Bloomington, Indianapolis and Brownsburg, expanding this year into Franklin and Garfield Park.
“We sample everything. All of the goat products you can sample right there at the market, and it gives people a chance to try it before you buy it,” Vanzant said. “People are hesitant to try goat cheese.”
Since opening in 2002, the Franklin market has carved a niche for itself in the downtown area. Organizers have worked with local artists to create distinctive landmarks directing customers to the market every Saturday.
Local metal artist Larry Gordon and his company Gordon Artistic Ironworks created a wrought iron archway as a focal point for the market. Shop Simplify, a downtown home decor, up-cycler and artist co-op, crafted a funky new sign this year.
Both will help distinguish the market as it moves to a new location, in the new city parking lot on the south side of Jefferson Street. In turn, the market helps individual producers showcase themselves.
“It increases awareness of their product, of their farm, and what they have going on,” Payne said.
Jody Taylor, owner of Boys and Berry Farm in Franklin, has been coming to the market for the past six years. What started as a way to sell the abundance of blackberries and raspberries that they grew on the farm has turned into a nice business for Taylor.
She now features grapes, elderberries, rhubarb, peppers and eggs, in addition to their crop of berries.
“My big interest in taking part in the market was being part of the community,” Taylor said. “When we first moved here, you could see the potential downtown. Being part of the farmers market, it’s been exciting seeing not only it grow but the city as well.”
An avid canner, Taylor has plans to start offering classes on canning and food preservation. Many of her connections have come from the farmers market.
“It’s allowed me to tap into my creativity and a great avenue for me to share my passion with other people,” she said.
Local farmers markets
Greenwood Farmers Market
Hours: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays until Oct. 8
Location: 525 N. Madison St.
Franklin Farmers Market
Hours: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Sept. 3
Location: Southwest corner of Jackson and Jefferson streets
Hours: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through October
Location: Garfield Park, corner of Shelby Street and Southern Avenue, Indianapolis
Southside Farmers Market
Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays
Location: St.John’s United Church of Christ, 7031 S East St., Indianapolis
The Original Farmers Market
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays through October
Location: Indianapolis City Market, 222 E. Market St.
Bean Blossom Farmers Market
Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays
Location: Intersection of State Road 135 and State Road 45
Information: beanblossom.wordpress.com/farmersmarket or 812-988-1038