The Kalona farmers market started on Sept. 5 with only about 10 vendors. That number has now grown, with about 20 vendors selling prepared food, goods, and produce in downtown Kalona on Oct. 10.
“It’s been really rewarding and surprising. I didn’t really know what to expect, so it’s been really cool to watch it grow and to see people continue to come out to the market,” said organizer Krista Hershberger. “After the first Saturday, I thought, ‘Ok, that was great, but maybe it’s just the newness of it and we’ll see how it goes.’ But even the weekends where the weather hasn’t been great, people have still come out.”
The first market didn’t have live music but starting with the second weekend local musicians have played on the corner of B Ave and 5th street. Iowa City bassist Blake Shaw played several weekends in September and saxophonist Jim Buenning played on Oct. 10.
“It has really set the vibe of the farmers market, having live music here,” Hershberger said. “So many people have commented on it. It’s fun to be out and feel this energy in town — a lot of that stems from having the music.”
Many vendors, such as the Miller Family Homestead, have their own customer bases who have followed them to the Kalona market. The Miller Family Homestead maintains an email list, so every person on that list became aware of the emerging Kalona market.
“I work at a small business here in downtown, so it’s awesome to provide a place for vendors to sell their goods, but also they’re bringing people downtown who would have otherwise never walked past our store,” Hershberger said. “I feel like it’s a really good partnership of both groups working together to support local business and local vendors.”
Despite the popularity of the market, some downtown businesses haven’t seen larger-than-average crowds in their stores.
“Most of the people who are here for the farmers market are just out walking the streets and staying outside,” said English River Antiques staff member Larry Moeller. “We usually open at 10 a.m. and the last few Saturdays I’ve opened at 9 a.m. and I haven’t really had anyone coming in during that time.”
The Kalona Brewing Company, however, has seen a marked uptick of customers on Saturdays since the market began.
“The first market was pretty quiet, but since then we’ve started to get new people in from out of town, so we’ve had new customers who either have never been to Kalona or who have lived in the area and never been to the restaurant,” said marketing coordinator Christina Patramanis. “Some are beer drinkers and some just like good, local food. We’ve definitely seen an increase in visitors and in people trying new things.”
Julie Barnes, who has participated in every market this year, said the biggest change has been the number of people. On weeks with rain, there haven’t been as many customers as other weeks, but when the weather is beautiful, people are coming out.
About the produce she brings to the market, Barnes said she has less to offer now that summer produce like tomatoes, corn, and peppers aren’t growing in the fall.
“It’s gone down, the amount of choices we have,” she said. “We don’t have the pepper choices that we had before. I don’t think the quality has gone down, just the variety… we’re selling more squash and the mums have been a big hit.”
The market will continue through Oct. 31 as long as the weather remains nice enough. Hershberger said she is interested in feedback from the community about this year’s market in the hopes that next year’s market can be even better. She welcomes feedback sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.