Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Patrons of Fairfield’s farmers market will find a cornucopia of local goods — fresh seasonal produce, home-baked bread, unique drinks and coffees, handmade arts and crafts, honey, soaps, jewelry and many other items.
The market has grown this year to incorporate more vendors and involve more local community organizations and performers. The Wednesday market has moved from Howard Park to Central Park to make it more visible.
These developments have been ushered in by two new organizers for the market — a market master, Deanna Julsen, and a social media manager, Barb Sieren.
The Fairfield Farmers Market, which takes place on Wednesday’s from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturday’s from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. is a market driven by the consumers.
While the market draws a large crowd on Saturday’s, Wednesday Farmers Markets attract a fair amount of locals as well.
Sieren said the decision to move the market to Central Park on Wednesdays was headed up by the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event. She said the Wednesday market in Howard Park often didn’t attract a lot of customers, and the new location makes it easier for people to notice.
“Definitely the Saturday markets are much bigger, but for us, sales are still really good on Wednesdays,” said Samara Burnes, with Breadtopia Bakery. “In the beginning, it’s like a swarm of people. Saturday’s are a little more even. Wednesday’s it’s like sometimes I don’t even get to set up, don’t have anything out on the table and I’m pulling out of the bins because I have 10 people waiting.”
Breadtopia began setting up a stand at the indoor farmers markets in the wintertime, with hopes to gain more exposure and provide for the local community.
“I’m a people person,” Burnes said. “So I love getting to see people face-to-face and talk to them and interact with them. I think having a friendly face and something to associate that with helps, but I think the bread sells itself.”
Gaining exposure is a common motivator for vendors at the farmers market, including Patty Crist, with Ashland Soap Company.
“My daughter did it in 2008 and I helped her and I baked some gluten-free things and it was fun,” Crist said. “I figured if I did it, it was an outlet and I can sell my stuff.”
Crist is the owner of Rainy’s, a beauty shop located in Ottumwa. She began handcrafting soaps during the pandemic, following recipes from craft books and online websites.
She began coming to the farmers markets in late May 2021 and sees a slow and steady stream of consumers. Preparations for the farmers market includes making ample amounts of soap, weighing amounts in ounces and prepackaging the soaps to include its ingredients.
In their new roles, Julsen and Sieren took the initiative to organize the market and provide more information to the public, which they said provided for a more cohesive experience at the market.
“I’m kind of her assistant, and she’s kind of my assistant, so between the two of us we’re getting things done,” Sieren said.
The positions were new this year, and in the past the market has been run by a president of the nonprofit, who is usually a vendor.
Sieren said the new approach has made the market easier to navigate for vendors, as she is available on social media to answer questions and guide people through the process. Julsen is at the market on Saturdays to help vendors.
"That kind of helps with new vendors, if they have questions, then they feel more comfortable with coming and vending at our market if they get answers right away,“ Sieren said.
Sieren runs the market’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, which feature a couple posts a week with photos of the produce and items available at the market and information about when and where the market will be.
The publicity has grown the number of vendors at the market, to the point where around 30 vendors are on site every Saturday. Sieren said in previous years, the Saturday market would bring about 10 to 20 vendors.
The Wednesday market is smaller, ranging from five to as many as 16.
Vendors have to pay an $8 fee on Wednesdays and a $10 fee on Saturdays, and a seasonal pass is available for vendors who go every week.
The market has also grown into a community event, with local musicians, story time with a librarian and partnerships from area organizations.
The market has seen performances from local artists like My Romance and the Dave Leffler Band along with open mic opportunities for anyone to perform. On Wednesday nights a group called Essential Sounds has been playing classic jazz albums on vinyl.
“We don’t really have to do much asking around for entertainers, like word-of-mouth,” Sieren said. “We just have good responses about how they realize it’s organized now.”
Other community organizations have shown up too — the Jefferson County Democrats held a pie fundraiser on the Fourth of July, and they used a booth at the market to take orders.
Julsen said the public has responded to the changes as well, with more people coming to the market and saying they have an enriching experience there.
“The whole playground is full of kids, and there’s a really positive, fun community atmosphere,” she said.
The event has been supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the Fairfield Parks and Recreation Department and TrafFix Devices, a local business that makes traffic control equipment and signs.
Both women said their main drive in organizing the farmers market is to build community in Fairfield, using the market to bring the town together.
Julsen said the market is a great way for people to expand their food horizons and explore new foods they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.
“I just love the community aspect of it, and the simplicity of it,” Julsen said. “It’s a way for people to connect with where their food comes from.”