Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD – The Fairfield Farmers Market always transitions indoors during the winter months from November through April.
For years, vendors gathered in the Fairfield Community Center on South Court Street. That changed in the fall of 2020 when the farmers market found a new winter home in the Breadtopia building (formerly occupied by Harper Brush) on North Second Street.
Vendors at Saturday's market said the new location has a few advantages over the old place. Richard Herzog, who was manning a booth with wife Judie, said the new building is nice because everything is on one level, and attendees don't have to negotiate stairs or the ramp like at the Fairfield Community Center.
Peter Mannisi is a Fairfield resident who visits the market every Saturday. He buys a little bit of everything the vendors have to offer such as kale, radishes, scones, tomatoes and fresh bread.
'I like the quality of the food at the market, and I like supporting local vendors,” Mannisi said.
Mannisi lives two blocks from the Fairfield Community Center, so it was more convenient for him when the market was there, but he didn't mind the change to the new building. He is an avid runner, so the move was just another opportunity for him to exercise.
'This new building is nice and big,” Mannisi said.
Vendor Angelo Vitale sells at the market every week, although he did miss a Saturday a few weeks ago when it was bitterly cold. He said the building's roomy interior was perfect when the market moved indoors in November, when 15 vendors were setting up shop indoors. That number has gradually fallen as the winter has gone on, which Vitale attributed to recent bad weather. Though it was an abnormally warm February day on Saturday, just seven vendors showed up, and a small crowd of customers.
Nevertheless, vendor Steve McLaskey was still able to sell out of his greens. McLaskey is part of the regenerative agricultural program at Maharishi International University, where he is also a faculty member. He sets up a booth at the market every week, including over the winter. He sells produce from the university's unheated greenhouse, which yields vegetables most of the year except when the temperature is extremely cold like it was in mid-February.
McLaskey has sold at the market for eight years, and said he's happy the indoor market moved to its new location. He said there's more space for vendors, which is especially important now with social distancing guidelines. He added that it's nice to have the market on a major thoroughfare like North Second Street where its signs are more visible to the public.
Vendor Emily June doesn't mind the modest crowds at the winter markets because she's easing into a new business, trying to figure out what sells. June sells poetry books, songbooks and cards, all filled with her own writings, that are made from 'upcycled” materials, such as using a potato chip bag as a book cover. She also sells scones and hand pies.
June started selling at the farmers market in December. Though her appearances at the winter markets have produced just a 'trickle of income,” she's still been able to sell out of her baked goods each week.
'The idea of the bustling farmers markets in the summer is intimidating,” June said. 'I'm happy to have these slower months to ease into selling and grow from it.”
MORE THAN FOOD
The farmers market is not limited to vendors who sell food. It's open to anyone with homemade goods they'd like to sell. For the past two years, Judie Herzog has sold her potholders at the market. She remembers the first market she ever sold at. She was so preoccupied thinking about all the things she needed to take with her that she forgot to take her potholders.
Herzog had on display dozens and dozens of potholder designs for customers to choose from. She said she made 24 potholders the prior week. Usually, she makes four copies of the same design, because she can get four potholders out of a half yard of fabric. Her bestselling designs are those of birds and flowers, but she also has potholders depicting 4-H, FFA, college teams like Iowa, Iowa State and UNI, and professional sports teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.
Vitale set up a booth at Saturday's market where he sold homemade wreaths. He said he doesn't expect to get rich off the hobby, and he could sell the wreaths for much more in his previous stomping grounds of San Diego.
'It's an art project,” he said.
The market offers not just food and crafts but also services. Vitale is a good illustration of that, because in addition to selling wreaths, he also performs what are called Viking rune readings. Vitale has a sack of runes – little stones – each bearing a symbol. The symbols correspond to words in a book Vitale has. When a person picks a stone at random, Vitale looks up the symbol in the book and reads the appropriate passage. He said this ancient Viking tradition is meant to focus a person's attention on a particular part of their life, not predict the future.