Ames Main Street Farmers' Market
BY: HALEE MILLER, JL MC 302
Sept. 18th, 2021
The hustle and bustle that everyone has missed. The sweet aroma of mini donuts, nostalgic tunes of fiddles and children’s laugher fill the air.
The Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market is back in full swing, but not after a year full of struggle, doubt or, for some, success like never before. Due to COVID-19, the summer of 2020 was one of restrictions and fear, causing problems for most farmers’ market vendors. According to a study published in the Cambridge University Press, the change in 2020 Washington D.C. farmers’ markets average sales between the winter and spring seasons were between 75% and 79% lower than in 2019.
While the pandemic has been difficult for many, not every business has had the same outcomes that most would expect. Some suffered financial hardship, some had to adjust their management tactics and some had a surprise increase in sales. Each vendor had to navigate the trial in their own way.
Lojean Peterson of the Ames Chamber of Commerce is the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market manager. Peterson said that in the summer of 2020, the weekly event looked different than in years past. There was a later start date for all and an even later start date for bakers, artisans and food vendors. There was also an online market for a short period.
“I think the people that really understand the quality, freshness and importance of where their food comes from came and shopped and supported our farmers,” Peterson said.
“It mainly hurt other entrepreneurs like the bakers and artisans that couldn’t come until later in the season.”
Knute Severson, owner of Grand View Beef of Clarion, Iowa, sells his homegrown, grass-fed beef at the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market and reflected on his small business’s sales last summer.
“Last year I thought that our overall sales were flat from the year prior; what was interesting was that the foot traffic was drastically down, I’d say between 70% and 80%,” Severson said. “The customer interactions were what really hurt the most, which is the large reason why we come to these farmers’ markets.”
“Developing relationships so that there’s sales that happen year after year is what we saw decreased,” Severson said, “which is what hurt us the most.”
Naomi Friend of Friend’s Flowers in Story City, Iowa, said that COVID-19 had the opposite effect on her business of what is typically expected.
“People were definitely more interested in shopping outside,” Friend said, “our sales went up overall, actually.”
“Last summer, nobody went on vacation, so people were very interested in keeping flowers in their house.”
Friend said that finding labor has surprisingly been a bigger problem for her business than COVID-19 has been, making it more difficult for her and her family to keep up with the high demand for their products.
Mike and Janine Robinson own Knob Hill Farm in Webster City, and they sell their produce and pork products through the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market. The couple said that they did not struggle financially but had to change how they ran their business to stay stable.
“Farmers’ markets had fewer people,” Mike Robinson said. “There were ups and downs.”
“It was just a real change of how we were functioning; it took more communication,” Janine Robinson said. “It was just more cumbersome.”
Peterson is hopeful due to the resilience exemplified by the vendors. Most found a way to adjust to the circumstances so that all can enjoy the buzzing crowds of this season and the future seasons to come.
“Our crowds have been tremendous,” said Peterson, “I think people were ready to get out, and we’ve had a lot of new vendors join us this year.”