Iowa City cancels Wednesday Farmer’s Market after vendor attendance drops

Wednesday night farmers’ markets have seen a steady decline in vendors and attendees over the years, forcing Iowa City to cancel the event.

The Iowa City Farmers Market will no longer host Wednesday night markets for the 2022 season due to declining attendance and participation.

Juli Seydell Johnson, director of parks and recreation for Iowa City, said Wednesday night markets have seen a steady decline in sellers and buyers for at least the past five years. There was no longer anything to justify the

“We don’t know which came first, fewer sellers or fewer buyers,” Seydell Johnson said. “But either way, there just doesn’t seem to be enough of a market to justify the staff time and the use of the ramp and all that.”

Seydell Johnson said Wednesday markets were quite large several years ago and would fill the entire Chauncey Swan parking ramp, but the number has dwindled to just a dozen vendors.

Wednesday evening markets are particularly short of food vendors, she said.

“The Farmers Market is all about fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We were down to maybe one or two food vendors who were even interested.”

Seydell Johnson said the city has tried to increase interest in the market by stepping up entertainment and marketing efforts.

“We offered different seller incentives last year with lower prices or ‘buy one, get one’ seller fees,” she said.

Marissa Good, a third-year student at the University of Iowa who sells handmade jewelry, was an on-call salesperson last year. Good attended some Wednesday night markets because of the incentives offered, she said.

“The reason why I decided to do Wednesday [market] it was because they gave us an offer… as a sort of incentive, it was like a discounted price,” she said.

Matt Stewart, owner of Noble Bee Honey, has been a vendor at the Iowa City Farmer’s Market for more than 15 years. Stewart said he and his wife attended the Wednesday and Saturday markets.

He said the decision to cancel Wednesdays hit their business hard and he was surprised the city made the decision.

“I figured they’d hang on because we’re not the only ones benefiting, our customers are benefiting,” he said. “There are quite a few who have still passed.”

Stewart said he knows many big sellers have stopped frequenting the markets because when the pandemic hit, many of them started community-supported agriculture on their farms. The program allows individuals to purchase “shares,” similar to a subscription or membership, and receive products in return, such as a box full of vegetables.

“When these things started again, a lot of customers came to them, so they don’t need to come anymore,” he said. “It knocks down quite a few of those big veggie vendors pulling people.”

Seydell Johnson said the changing availability of fresh produce has contributed to the decline in overall attendance at the farmers’ market.

“There are just a lot of other options now with a lot of farmers markets online, with a lot of community supported agriculture groups. Many vendors are selling direct and the internet has made that possible,” she said. “I think it’s just a product of a whole set of changing market conditions.”

Valérie Martin, owner of Valerie’s French Cooking, has been a Saturday market seller for four years. She said she had noticed a drop in attendance at the market from farmers and vendors in general and found it particularly noticeable in the past year.

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“I think what’s really put people off is that they have to wear a mask,” she said. “I think that scared a lot of people, especially older people…and they didn’t come last year because of that.”

Sellers are mostly found through promotional companies, she said.

“We make announcements through press releases, social media, the farmer’s market webpage and the city’s webpage for the farmer’s market, all of it,” she said.

Seydell Johnson said it was possible to reintroduce Wednesday night markets in the future.

“Market conditions are expected to change,” she said. “I really think some of the online marketplaces have taken away the fruit and veg vendors. If for some reason that didn’t work out or they decided they wanted to have an in-person location again, we’d be willing to talk about it again in the future.

James V. Payne