By Kaylee Hayes | Guest Contributor
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., a hub of people can be seen in a parking lot across from the Waco courthouse at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, which has made a name for itself over the past 10 years. The farmers market is located at 500 Washington Ave. It operates year-round and has totaled $1.5 million in sales.
Bethel Erickson-Bruce, the market manager, said she works hard to keep the farmers market thriving. Ten and a half years ago, she started the market with 14 vendors. Now, the market offers food incentive programs and hosts 50-plus vendors.
Being a market manager consists of many different skills, all of which Erickson-Bruce said she learned when she got the job. She said she spends her time attending meetings concerning food and hunger in Waco, planning special events, recruiting vendors and more.
“I go in and inspect all of our farms so I can verify that they actually grow what they are bringing to market,” Erickson-Bruce said.
When she is not at meetings or out recruiting, paperwork is the other half of what she does, she said. Part of Erickson-Bruce’s duties are writing up reports, looking at applications and working on permitting paperwork.
“It’s a lot of paperwork, more than people expect,” Erickson-Bruce said.
According to Erickson-Bruce, the people are her favorite part of the market. She said her relationship with the vendors is family-like.
“Another vendor and I were pregnant at the same time, and now our kids are best friends,” Erickson-Bruce said.
The market follows the 80/20 rule; this means 80% of the vendors are produce-related and 20% are artisan. According to Erickson-Bruce, the market is nonprofit and is funded primarily through booth fees.
“It limits us so we don’t become a flea market,” Erickson-Bruce said.
Jill Boman is an artisan vendor at the market and the owner of Happy Stuff. She said she sells natural alternatives to commercial products, including soaps, hand sanitizers, room sprays and various personal care products. All her products are preservative-free and made without water-based ingredients.
Boman said she initially made her products for fun, but after her children graduated, she decided to turn it into a business. She said she “challenged” herself to not purchase any personal care items, which encouraged her to delve deeper into learning about how to make products.
“If I couldn’t figure out how to make something, then too bad for me,” Boman said.
Boman said she has been a vendor and consumer for 10 years; she said the community is what makes the farmers market so special, and supporting local businesses and farmers is something she loves. She also said she has a very solid customer base, with customers who have purchased her products for years.
“I love the community,” Boman said. “It’s happy. It’s friendly. It’s so different than going to the grocery store.”
Rianna Alvarado works with the Master Gardener booth to educate the public about gardening. The Master Gardeners act as a resource for individuals who are interested in planting, backyard gardening or just growing their own herbs. She said they consider themselves a really important resource for the community.
Alvarado said the farmers market is the reason she stayed in Waco, with some of her greatest friendships having been created there. She said she participates in the market to stay involved in the community, and she thinks the market can be life-changing for people. Alvarado said the farmers market is like life for her, with it being a home for her and her children.
“It’s their community too,” Alvarado said.
Before the farmers market opened, Alvarado said she would drive to Austin to grocery shop. Now, Alvarado and her husband love to shop locally.
“I’ve been at the farmers market almost every day since it started 10 years ago,” Alvarado said.
Alvarado said a large part of what makes the farmers market important is how it provides a space for individuals who are looking to start a business. It is an inexpensive alternative where ideas can easily be tested and connections can be made, she said.
Richard Seitz owns Long Branch Farm in Prairie Hill, Texas. The farm offers chicken, pork and eggs that are sourced from “pasture-raised” animals. It promises non-soy and non-GMO products. It also sells various spices, coffee and bone broth. The farm has been a vendor at the farmers market since December 2019, Seitz said.
Seitz said he originally began raising chickens for his family. After giving out eggs to friends, he said he realized he could make a business of it, and there was a need for clean meat in Waco.
Before joining the farmers market, Seitz operated his business through local farm pick-ups. Since becoming a vendor, business has improved significantly, he said. Now Seitz offers both local and national deliveries.
“We can ship coffee or even a whole chicken to you later,” Seitz said.
Frisco senior Meg Lewis said she frequently attends the farmers market and enjoys having one-on-one conversations with the vendors she buys from. She said she is eco-conscious and likes to support local farmers, with some of her preferred vendors being Long Branch Farm and Little Foot Farm. Lewis said the farmers market is close-knit, sustainable and welcoming.
Chris Hennard said he goes to the farmers market every Saturday for the experience. He said he enjoys the community and gets about half of his produce there. He also said the farmers market has products and produce that cannot be found anywhere else in Waco, in addition to many good foods and options.
“It’s one of the best outdoor events that Waco has to offer,” Hennard said.
Hennard said the vendors are what make the Waco Downtown Farmers Market special. There is an abundance of parking, vendors, and consumers, he said, but it is not overwhelmingly busy either. He also said being close to the river and in a pleasant downtown area is a nice perk.
“It’s just a perfect environment really,” Hennard said.