The Iowa City Farmers’ Market opened on the Chauncey Swan parking ramp and a closed portion of Washington Street on Saturday. There was light energy as the sun shone on sellers and buyers.
The street and parking ramp were lined with vendors selling produce, meat, home-baked goods and coffee. Food trucks, local businesses and political candidates all gambled for attention.
Laura Schwager, a former on-site farmer’s market supervisor, was helping volunteers hand out tokens replaced with cash to use at market stalls. She said it was great to see so many people hanging out and having fun on a beautiful day.
“It looks like a pre-COVID market,” she said. “It’s just like there’s a calmer, more outgoing energy.”
Schwager said everyone’s morale seemed to be high with the lifting of good weather and mask restrictions. She said there are still big sellers of produce that are not in the market because they don’t have enough to sell.
“We had a number of vendors for today’s market. Lots of farmers and produce sales, because they haven’t got anything yet because the sun hasn’t shined and the weather hasn’t been as conducive to growing fruits and vegetables,” said Brad Barker, Iowa City Superintendent of Recreation and Farmers’ Market Coordinator.
Barker expects those vendors to arrive in a week or two and thinks the outlook for the rest of the farmers’ market season is excellent.
The Iowa City Farmers’ Market, operated by Iowa City Parks and Recreation, is held May through October at the Chauncey Swan parking ramp from 7:30 a.m. to noon every Saturday.
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Vendors adapt to insurance requirements and no Wednesday market
One of the biggest changes to the Iowa City Farmers’ Market in 2022 is that the city has chosen to cut its Wednesday market.
The Iowa City Farmers Market got its start in August 1972 and has been an annual tradition ever since. The Wednesday night market largely closed due to a small number of vendors registering.
The market opening was first delayed and then canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schwager said she thought many people were sad to see the Wednesday Night Market go away, but said it could return if enough vendors and customers showed up.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough last year to justify moving forward,” she said.
Barker said sellers were generally receptive to the removal of the Wednesday market. This is Barker’s first year overseeing the Farmers’ Market after Tammy Neumann, who he says has always run the market like a “well-oiled machine.”
Along with lifting the mask requirement and scrapping Wednesdays, all Farmer’s Market vendors are now required to carry insurance. The Iowa City Council voted unanimously to make this change earlier in the year. Previously, only grill sellers were required to carry insurance.
Dennis Rehberg, the owner of Rehberg’s Pork in Walker, Iowa, had set up his stand just inside the parking ramp, selling bacon, roasts, chops, ground pork and other products. Rehberg is a sixth-generation farmer who raises cattle without antibiotics, steroids or hormones.
Rehberg said he’s been selling at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market for 15 years and has been touring other markets for even longer. In all those years, he said, the biggest change was the number of food vendors outside the parking ramp, which grew from one to dozens across the street on Saturday. .
“Vendors come and go, but generally as far as the market goes, there’s a lot more variety starting to appear in recent years, like coffee and little things like that,” he said.
Rehberg said he never sold in Iowa City on Wednesdays, largely because he spent a lot of time during the week at other farmers’ markets. He said he always had insurance on his stand, so the new requirement didn’t affect him.
“It’s a bit more about the premium I have to pay, but I can see the point. We’re all here together in one space, so we might as well have (insurance),” he said . “There really hasn’t been a situation where insurance is needed.”
Fatima Saeed, the owner of Art for Peace, set up her stall in the heart of the bustling market on Saturday, selling bags and handbags painted with art, potpourri and a type of pie called fatayer.
Saeed is a sophomore vendor and also sells her wares at other farmers’ markets in University Heights and Coralville. She said operating a stall at the farmers’ market can be expensive with renting the space, buying gas for her vehicle and new insurance requirements.
“It’s extra money. I didn’t do it last year, but I have to do it and I have to pay the rent,” she said. “Fortunately, I only sold one bag, so I’m getting my rent back. But I still have to sell to be able to buy my petrol.”
Claire Urig owns Better Things Candle Co. and sells for the first time at Iowa City Farmers Market. She said she started making these candles during the pandemic and created a wide variety of scents from her home, such as a London-themed scent to smell the rain, Earl Gray tea and the old books.
Urig said the closure of the Wednesday farmers’ market didn’t affect her as much because she was busy during the week with work and her child.
“I think it would be difficult, if you’re used to doing (Wednesdays). I think it would be a huge disappointment,” she said.
Barker said many vendors already had insurance for their farmers’ market stalls, but the switch has been more difficult for newer, smaller vendors.
“In the future, we may be looking at ways to help offset some of these costs, at least as an option that we will pursue,” he said. “We are still collecting feedback asking if this has been a problem for them, a burden on them and how much it costs so that we can continue to provide equitable opportunities to the community.”
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George Shillcock is Press-Citizen’s local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, [email protected] and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge