Downtown Farmers' Market of Manhattan

By Tyler Scott, Meredith Lindsey and Amanda Hinkley

There's little need for fancy commercials or advertising circulars: At the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Manhattan, Kan., the food and the farmers speak for themselves.

According to www.ams.usda.gov, there are 91 farmers markets in Kansas alone. United States Department of Agriculture programs like the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and the Farmers' Market Nutrition Program work with farmers markets to provide low-income people with increased access to fresh foods. This not only benefits local families who are otherwise unable to afford high-quality fresh food, it also gives the farmers a way to bring the freshest produce right to the consumer.

Farmers markets also can be an important asset for communities that can't maintain grocery stores. Markets provide an outlet to get fresh food that people wouldn't have if they were living in a food desert. Towns that are food deserts are given a sense of stability with the help of farmers markets.

By cutting out "the middle-person," farmers are able to grow and cultivate the produce themselves, and deliver it directly from their land to a stall in the market where customers can see who actually grew the food.

Dave Heidebrink, a farmer and commercial vegetable grower from Wakefield, Kan., has been selling produce at the Farmers’ Market since 2007.

"I think that farmers markets are one of the only places in town for healthy and fresh food," Heidebrink said. "I'm not a fan of the industrial food complex. They're more harmful than we know and not all growers grow organically like I do and larger growers use pesticides."

Heidebrink said in addition to avoiding potentially dangerous use of chemicals, small growers can focus on their customers.

"It's on a small enough scale and with such diversity I can focus on my crops.  Larger growers tend to be "mono-crop" growers," Heidebrink said.  "The farmers market is fabulous as it gives smaller growers an opportunity to tailor our operations to what the consumer wants."

Aside from local farmers selling their crops, Kansas State University agricultural students are also reaping the benefits of having a place to sell their produce.  

Samantha Williams, a senior in agricultural education, has been selling produce at the Farmers' Market for three years.

"People can find products that they may not find at a bigger store," Williams said.  "Farmers can also test out products to see if customers want to buy the product there at the market."

Many patrons of the Manhattan Farmers' Market have been going to farmers markets for years, in Kansas and elsewhere.

Dr. Douglas Dow, an associate professor of Art History at K-State, says he is a big advocate of markets. "I've shopped at farmers markets for years," Dow said.  "I started going when I lived in Pennsylvania, because it was on my way home, and it was just fun to walk through."

Dow said he goes to the Manhattan market partly because of its proximity. "It's convenient, and close by. I like going to see what's being offered. It's locally grown, and you can get good and fresh vegetables at a reasonable price."

Many of the farmers contribute to farmers markets because of the proximity, their expertise and convenience of local farmers markets.

According to www.farmersmarkettoday.com, the majority of farmers who contribute to local farmers markets have been doing so for over 10 years partly because of their closeness to the markets.  Farmers Market Today also said that the majority of farmers are within 10 miles of the farmers markets to which they contribute.

One of the many benefits of the markets is the affordability. Dow said that he thinks the prices are more reasonable and the farmers make more money because they are selling directly to the consumers, instead of to a large corporate buyer.

"I believe it's mutually beneficial," Dow said.  "I see it as supporting local farmers and students because it's convenient and community based.  I like buying from the school's students because they're more adventurous in terms of what they grow and more creative in what they sell at the markets."

There is a small parking lot located in the heart of downtown Manhattan that plays host to the market, where large signs read, "NO PARKING SATURDAY FOR FARMERS MARKET." This gives local growers and patrons a stable and consistent space to access fresh food.

The Manhattan Farmers' Market is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 5th Street and Humboldt Avenue and Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. at CiCo Park from May through October.