A Youthful Voice...The Advocate Youth Page Schyler Angell

By SCHYLER ANGELL
Associate Editor,
Advocate Youth Page

At the end of August I attended the annual Missouri Junior Cattlemen's Youth Tour. This tour is organized by the Missouri Cattlemen's Association and brings together about 40 young people who share an interest in the cattle industry. This year the tour took place near Springfield, Missouri. In just three days we toured several businesses and saw multiple facets of the cattle industry. We had lunch at Joplin Regional Stockyards, toured Double A Performance Horses, Show Me Genetic Services and a couple farms throughout the area. The tour was educational, and it was interesting to learn about other cattle farms, especially in a region that I am not familiar with.

One of my favorite stops while on the tour was The Farmers Market of the Ozarks which is located off Highway 60 in Springfield, MIssouri. The market is outdoor with several rows of vendors. My group and I toured the market and learned about what it takes to make the market a possibility. Once our tour of the facility was over, we were able to walk around. I took the opportunity to shop up and down the multiple aisles. I enjoyed seeing the variety of goods and products sold by vendors. There was everything from hand designed stickers and earrings, lavender candles, wooden bowls, fresh bread and fruity lemonade. The farmers market opened in 2013, and started out structurally as a big circus tent on gravel. What was once undeveloped land is now Farmer’s Park, complete with a covered heated pavilion, a food truck row and electricity for each vendor booth. The improvements have allowed the market to stay open all year and grow exponentially.

In winter months, the market has between 15 to 25 vendors and about 1,000 shoppers each Saturday. There is enough business to maintain the vendors and enough selection for consumers however, the warmer months of the year is when the market serves most its clientele. During the warmer part of the year, there’s between 50 and 70 vendors, and as many as 10,000 shoppers on a solid Saturday. The Farmers Market of the Ozarks has become a community with an environment where people shop for groceries, purchase from local artisans, enjoy live music and eat breakfast or lunch. While I was at the farmers market, I was able to meet Jesse Stone, who is the manager of the market. When asked what her favorite part of the market is, she said, “The joy I get from walking through the crowds and seeing vendors making a great living, seeing shoppers getting the healthiest things for their families, and seeing everyone having fun together and always getting to know each other better, is the best thing ever”.

This excellent experience would likely not be possible if it were not for the strategic process of choosing vendors for the market. Jesse states, “We've learned how to be selective about the vendors we choose, making our market a well curated experience-- great diversity for the shoppers, and the right amount of competition for our vendors”. How vendors are chosen varies based on the products they have to offer. The market strives to have diverse products for their consumers. For example, instead of having five typical meat vendors, the market would select five vendors that have different meat products like wagyu beef, bison, grass fed beef, Halal meat, elk or quail. This goes for all vendors including bakers, artisans and more. Nearly all the market’s vendors produce their own products and are within 150 miles of the market, with the exception of non-locally available products like lobster and tree tapped maple syrup. In an effort to focus on providing food for their customers, the market only allows about 20% of their vendors to be artists. Angelina Crawford is one of the few artisans at the market with her business, Side Hustle Designs. Angelina creates and sells handmade ceramic jewelry and housewares that are inspired by nature and geometry. As a vendor, she loves meeting new people and engaging with the public. She described her fellow vendors as genuinely nice with a strong sense of camaraderie.

This sense of camaraderie was vital as the Coronavirus had a big effect on the market. During the pandemic, the market was forced to make a massive shift from their normal market set up to a drive-through set up. Vendors set up their booths in a long line on the side of the parking lot and traffic was directed on when to move up the line. Customers waited in line up to two hours to purchase food and support the market.

Despite the challenges, it resulted in some record sales for vendors. Unfortunately, the virus has had a much worse effect on the overall organization. Most of the market’s profit comes from hosting large weekly events, which have been cancelled. The combination of losing that income source, high rent and hiring extra staff for Coronavirus related reasons, Jesse predicts the organization could be near $100,000 in debt by the end of it, whenever that may be. The organization is working hard to find alternative income solutions and fundraising so that they can continue serving the Ozark Region.

The Farmers Market of the Ozarks is always looking to grow and improve. In the future the organization would like to improve their infrastructure to be warmer in the winter and to also have space for more food trucks. The market plans to continue their event line up, and possibly expand their market into different cities. I’m looking forward to seeing how the market develops in the near future. My tour at the market was nothing short of interesting, and the shopping experience was unique, enjoyable and personable.