Iowa City cancels Wednesday farmers market after vendor participation declines

Wednesday night farmers markets have seen a steady decline in vendors and participants over the years, causing Iowa City to cancel the event.


Jeff Sigmund

The Iowa City Farmers Market on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

Marandah Mangra-Dutcher, News Reporter

The Iowa City Farmers Market will no longer host Wednesday night markets for the 2022 season because of a decrease in attendance and participation.

Juli Seydell Johnson, director of Iowa City Parks and Recreation, said Wednesday night markets have experienced a steady decline in both vendors and shoppers over at least the last five years. There were no longer enough of either to justify the Wednesday market, she said.

“We don’t know which came first, fewer vendors or fewer shoppers,” Seydell Johnson said. “But, in either case, there just doesn’t seem to be enough of a market there to justify the staff time and using the ramp and everything else.”

Seydell Johnson said the Wednesday markets used to be fairly large several years ago and would fill the entire Chauncey Swan parking ramp, but numbers have dwindled to only about a dozen vendors.

The Wednesday night markets lack food vendors in particular, she said.

“The farmers market is all about fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We were getting down to maybe one or two food vendors that were even interested.”

Seydell Johnson said the city has tried to increase interest in the market by amping up entertainment and marketing efforts.

“We offered some different incentives for vendors last year with some lower prices or ‘buy-one-get-one’ type of vendor fees,” she said.

Marissa Good, a third-year University of Iowa student who sells handmade jewelry, was an on-call vendor last year. Good attended some Wednesday night markets because of the incentives offered, she said.

“The reason I actually decided to do the Wednesday [market] was because they offered a deal for us … as kind of an incentive, it was like a reduced price,” she said.

Matt Stewart, owner of Noble Bee Honey, has been a vendor at the Iowa City Farmers Market for more than 15 years. Stewart said he and his wife attended both the Wednesday and Saturday markets.

He said he is preparing for the Wednesday market cancellation to hit their business hard, and he was surprised the city made the decision.

“I figured they’d hang in there because we’re not the only ones benefiting — our customers benefit from it,” he said. “There are quite a few that still came through.”

Stewart said he knows a lot of big vendors stopped attending the markets because when the pandemic hit, many of them started Community Supported Agriculture on their farms. The program allows individuals to purchase shares, similar to a subscription or membership, and receive products in return, such as a box full of vegetables.

“When those things start back up again, they had plenty of customers coming to them, so they don’t have to come anymore,” he said. “That knocks down quite a few of those big vegetable vendors that pull the people.”

Seydell Johnson said the changing availability of fresh goods has contributed to the decline in overall, farmers market attendance.

“There are just a lot of other options now with a lot of the online farmer’s markets, with a lot of Community Supported Agriculture groups. Several vendors sell directly and the internet has made that possible,” she said. “I think it’s just the product of just the whole number of changing market conditions.”

Valérie Martin, owner of Valerie’s French Cooking, has been a vendor at the Saturday market for four years. She said she’s noticed a decline in farmers market attendance and vendors overall and found it especially noticeable last year.

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“I think what really pushed people away is that they have to wear a mask,” she said. “I think it scared many people, especially older people … and they didn’t come last year because of that.”

Vendors are found mainly through promotional ventures, she said.

“We do some announcements through press releases, social media, Farmer’s Market webpage, and the city web page for the farmers market — all of that,” she said.

Seydell Johnson said reintroducing Wednesday night markets in the future is possible.

“Market conditions would need to change,” she said. “I really think that some of the online markets have taken away the fruit and vegetable vendors. If, for some reason, that didn’t work out or they decided they wanted to have one in-person venue again, we’d be open to talking about it again in the future.”