In a year filled with growth and changes, Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market has continued its growing season with the addition of a Wednesday market day. “We’re taking baby steps to prepare for our next move to a year-round, multi-day market in 2022,” said Leigh Rowan, market founder and manager.
The market moved its outdoor summer location to McCulloch Park, 1795 Broadway, on May 15. The Saturday event regularly draws between 3,000-5,000 visitors, who shop with the 80 vendors who are normally in attendance. “We had a line of people at our host table on opening day, telling us how much they like the park location,” Rowan said. “Everybody likes the new space because there is a ton of free parking just steps away, and you don’t have to walk a mile to get to your car.” The park also features a playground for children, a large, covered gazebo, and green space for picnics.
The Wednesday market is open from 3-7 p.m. It is also located in McCulloch Park, adjacent to the Electric Works project. “We have between 20-25 vendors located in the park on Wednesdays,” Rowan said. “That allows for ample space to spread out and maintain social distancing.” The Wednesday market features many of its normal Saturday market vendors rotating in and out on a weekly basis.
Electric Works will become the new home for the market in 2022, with an anticipated October move-in date. “Electric Works’ developer, Jeff Kingsbury, approached us and asked if we would consider being the indoor farmer’s market for the project. We signed a letter of intent in 2018,” Rowan said. “This midweek market is helping our vendors get ready to transition to a multi-day market when we move.” The market will return to Parkview Field for the coming winter season, return to McCulloch Park for the summer 2022 season, and move into Electric Works in October 2022. “It will be a great way to celebrate our 10th anniversary,” Rowan said.
Rowan launched Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market with the philosophy “if you don’t make it or grow it or bake it, it doesn’t belong in the market.” The market offers 95% food and natural products, and 5% craft and artisan products. The products must come from providers located within a 100-mile radius of Fort Wayne. Vendors belong to Indiana Grown, a grassroots movement that encourages Hoosiers to buy and sell their products locally. Rowan and her staff do on-site visits to producers to ensure they are growing and making the products they sell. Vendors who sell food products also must complete a food handling certification program and must obtain appropriate Board of Health licensing.
Angie Harrison of Bakerson Pie Co. was on hand at Wednesday market, selling her array of pie selections. She has participated as a vendor in Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market for several years. Her company recently opened a brick-and-mortar location on Broadway, sharing space with two other food-based businesses. “Since we opened the storefront, I haven’t been able to work the Saturday market regularly,” Harrison said. “I like this Wednesday option because we love the shoppers that come out and are regular patrons. You get to know your regulars and you get to meet new people. This gives you the chance to see them.” Those regulars are likely to show up with their “Frequent Pieer Club Card.”
Body butters, bath scrubs and essential oils were on display in the Body Love by Q booth at the Wednesday market. Sequoia Williams is the owner of the new business, which she started in March of this year. “I’m just getting started with my business, and this is a great way to get exposure to people,” Williams said. She started her business because “I like body and skin care products. I decided to try making my own, and people seem to like them.”
Wendy Serban of Good Riddance! Gluten-Free Bakery has been a vendor at the markets since 2017, selling gluten-free cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, scones and more. At Wednesday market, pans of cinnamon rolls were attracting customers to her booth. Serban, who started her business in 2013, said she enjoys working with Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market because “everybody seems to be really supportive, and we encourage each other.”
In 2012, Rowan owned and operated a food-based business, Big Brick House Bakery and Pasta. She subsidized her business by selling product at several markets in the Fort Wayne area. Rowan forged relationships with other vendors at those markets, and as the end of summer approached, they discussed how they would still have product to sell after the market season ended. With the goal of extending the selling season, Rowan arranged to utilize the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field for an indoor market, the area’s first year-round market. Just six weeks after the vendor discussion, Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market opened. “I didn’t realize that the hardest time of year to open a market is in the fall,” said Rowan.
The indoor market opened in October, and initially operated just one Saturday a month. “We had to work through what was being grown into the fall and winter months, and consider the seasonality of different products,” Rowan said. The winter market grew quickly in popularity, allowing it to soon operate every Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. After the winter season, Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market returned to the Barr Street market area, located south of Wayne Street. The Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana (YLNI) Market was located north of Wayne Street. “People weren’t really aware that there were two separate markets operating on Barr Street,” Rowan said.
COVID and 2020 brought changes for Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market. “I belong to several national farmer’s market groups,” Rowan said. “I learned from some markets in the South — they open several months before we do — that people weren’t always following the social distancing, routing and mask guidelines recommended by the CDC. Because of the smaller space on Barr Street, we asked our vendors whether they wanted to keep the summer market on Barr Street, or remain at Parkview Field. They opted to remain at the ballpark. It’s a gated facility with great facilities, and we had plenty of space to maintain social distancing. Nobody felt overwhelmed.”
The addition of the Wednesday market has been well received by vendors.
Kingsbury, an Electric Works developer, and Rowan both believe Fort Wayne is ready for a year-round, permanent market. “Great cities have great public markets,” said Kingsbury, according to the market’s website. And Rowan also believes Fort Wayne is ready for a permanent central market area. “The need for a centralized market is as important today as it was in 1837. We expect that Electric Works will continue to grow and be home to a multi-day market,” she said.
To learn more about Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market, its vendors, and its move to Electric Works, visit their website at ftwaynesfarmersmarket.com.