Iowa City locals pass down Farmers Market tradition for 50 seasons

The Iowa City Farmers Market is celebrating its 50th season with live music and other activities on Aug. 27.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Sam Wasson sells a watermelon at the Iowa City Farmers Market in the Chauncey Swan Ramp on Aug. 16, 2022.

Marandah Mangra-Dutcher, Design Editor

When Iowa City local Abby Anderson peruses the vibrant aisles of produce and flowers at the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp every Saturday, she has her daughter by her side, helping the Iowa City Farmers Market tradition continue through generations.

Anderson, along with thousands of other patrons of the Iowa City Farmers Market, grew up going to the market and has kept attending the 50-year-old weekend event throughout her life.

This year marks the Iowa City Farmers Market fiftieth anniversary, which the City of Iowa City is celebrating on Saturday during regular market hours with added activities, live music, and a vendor raffle.

As a pastor in Iowa City at Resurrection Assembly of God, Anderson shares the market with not only her daughter, but other children she interacts with through her job.

“I have a lot of kids that I take care of and whenever they’re with me on a weekend, I always make them come and get some Farmers Market tokens,” Anderson said. “They have to go buy something from the farmers and thank the farmers and take that time to appreciate where their food is coming from and the people who are putting the labor in.”

Farmers Market tokens were introduced in 2016 and provide a centralized system of payment for vendors. The market takes credit cards, debit cards, electronic benefits transfer, and the special Supplemental Nutrition Program for women, infants, and children in exchange for $5 tokens that are then given to the vendors.

Michelle Wiegand, the City of Iowa City recreation program supervisor of special events and communications, said the Farmers Market began under the College Street bridge in 1972.

“We’ve gone from this sort of like, inconsistent, maybe one vendor, maybe one to 20 vendors during the first season, to now having 150 vendors, live music, kids activities, hot food vendors, and food trucks,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand said the market consists of everything from produce to presents.

“We hear from a lot of people who can do kind of a one-stop shop for a lot of people they can get their veggies and fruit for the week,” Wiegand said. “They can get their meat that they might be using that week, they can get pasta, and they can even get a gift for friends.”

Iowa City Farmers Market vendors are required to produce the products they sell to make sure there are no resellers allowed, Wiegand said.

“We are producer-only so you do know that when you’re buying from a vendor, you are buying stuff that is made locally or produced locally, and that you’re supporting that vendor,” Wiegand said.

For patrons like Anderson, she said it’s worth it to come to the market to purchase her produce as opposed to going to a regular store.

“I want to make sure that just because I might be able to get jalapeños at the grocery store, quickly and whenever, I want to try and get them from farmers who care about the land here,” Anderson said.

She said there is a notable difference between the Iowa City Farmers Market and other markets in the area.

“A few mom friends of mine and I went to the Des Moines [market] a few weeks ago,” she said. “We all agreed even though it was much bigger, we actually really love the Iowa City market a lot better because it feels so community-oriented, and it’s got its Iowa City vibe.”

Karen Wasson, the owner of Wasson Produce from Conesville, has attended the Iowa City Farmers Market as a vendor since the mid-1980s. She said the location of the market sets it apart from others she typically attends, like the ones in Coralville and University Heights, because it has the coverage of the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp from the weather.

“All the other markets are out in the open,” Wasson said. “You have to pack a tent that takes up room on your truck and then the hassle of putting it up and down takes time.”

Wasson said conversations with locals are her favorite part of the Farmers Market.

“You make some very good friends, and you get some very good recipes,” Wasson said. “It’s the conversation.”

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