Story and photos by Karen Schotanus
Bonner Springs has discovered a novel, and successful, way to address a critical health need in its downtown: a farmers’ market.
In just its first year, the Bonner Springs Farmers’ Market has seen phenomenal success, attracting more than two dozen vendors and an estimated 500-700 consumers every Saturday morning. For many consumers, the downtown market fills a void created when the local Safeway closed its doors in 2015, making it hard to get access to fresh, seasonal produce.
““We are a low-income, low-access area and it’s difficult for some people, said market founder, Travis Slankard. “I mean some people can’t just hop in their car and drive out somewhere to get food.”
The market is located at 129 Elm Street and open every Saturday from 8 am to noon. Its season runs from May through October, with the last market day on October 28.
Slankard said he saw a need for a market in his hometown of Bonner Springs and decided to do something about it. His idea received wide acceptance at a community meeting he organized in October 2016. The first market was held on May 6 with 16 vendors. That number has grown to 30, with vendors selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to local honey products, baked goods, handcrafted soaps, and even wine.
Bonner Springs resident Etta Smith Cox used to frequent a roadside vegetable stand to get her fresh produce, but it closed in recent years. She’s now a regular customer at the new farmers’ market and is excited to have it in the community.
“I love it!” said Cox, who had stocked up on pears, apples, and peppers at the market that day. “It hurt me when Bush’s (the vegetable stand) shut down.”
While downtown residents like Cox can appreciate the proximity and variety that the farmers’ market provides, its popularity suggests that it’s attracting customers from a much broader area.
Slankard said the market can attract up to 1,000 visitors on a good day. “It never looks like a lot, but it’s a lot over time,” he said. In fact, Slankard has noticed customers starting to come earlier in the day to get the best selection before product sells out.
While the market has been good for local residents, the vendors have been pleased with it, too.
For Chad Gilliland, owner of Next to Nature farm in Leavenworth, the Bonner Springs Farmers’ Market is just the right fit for his busy schedule. He sells honey and beeswax skin care products in addition to fresh produce. “We are in the process of turning this over to a full-time business and looking for a storefront, but right now with working full time I can’t give enough time to working more than one farmers’ market.” he said.
Amber White operates White Rose Soap and is one of the original market vendors. “I sell a lot of product at the market so I do pretty well,” she said. Her booth at the market showcases her soaps, lotions, lip balms, and other products in stylish displays with colorful fabrics. White also sells her handmade soaps in a store, but is able to sell more product at the farmers’ market. “I do better at the market on four hours than I do in a whole month (in the store).”
Robin Nolan operates a booth for her family farm, TNR Hills, located in the nearby Piper area. She brings fresh fruits and vegetables to the market, as well as the unofficial market mascot: a small white goat named Itty Bitty Tiny. She liked the reasonable weekly vendor fee and proximity of the market, but the vendor community has helped her feel successful here. “It has worked out. Everyone here is really awesome,” she said, speaking of the other vendors who help her set up her booth when she needs an extra hand.
What began as a solution to a food problem in this downtown area has turned into a catalyst for a growing community hub of activity. Slankard has high hopes for expanding the market, including plans for a pavilion, murals on a building that backs to the market site, and events like a fall festival and spring barbecue.
Market treasurer Brook Rentz has seen a change in the town since the farmer’s market began.
“In the last year or so it’s really changed a lot for the better, you know,” she said, citing a new coffee shop nearby and more stores downtown. “I’ve noticed that people seem to be more out and about,” she said.
Rentz echoed Nolan’s sentiment about the vendors. “We don’t have a lot of people, but they are the best people. They are crazy passionate about what they do,” she said.
With the popularity of the market in its first year, it appears that customers may be just as passionate about this new community staple.