Community members learned a little more about their hometown farmers’ market during the monthly 1 Million Cups event Wednesday morning.
Sedalia is one of almost 100 communities across the country to launch 1 Million Cups, which is designed to educate, engage and connect entrepreneurs. August’s featured organization was the Sedalia Area Farmers’ Market, presented by founder Bev Rollings and Market Manager Brenda Raetz.
The market was founded in 2009 as a growers-only market — meaning the products must be grown or produced in Pettis County or its contiguous counties — which continues today. It began in downtown Sedalia but later moved to its current location on the Missouri State Fairgrounds to help attract more visitors for the roughly 20 vendors who sell produce, baked goods and other homemade items each Tuesday and Friday afternoon. It started with six vendors and has grown to more than 20 total members, prompting the hiring of the market’s first employee this year, Raetz.
SAFM could be considered a perfect fit for the 1 Million Cups program, as it features about 20 unique vendors each market day.
“The market was created not just for the health of the public, but also to help sustainable business,” Rollings said. “We are in fact an incubator for small business. We operate as a not-for-profit because we want the board to work to help grow the businesses that are at the market and not be worried about our own competitive business that is trying to operate in the market.”
The board conducts farm visits to verify the products are produced locally and the board helps ensure the market has diverse offerings. Rollings said they keep it around 20 percent non-food and 80 percent food.
Rollings said one of their biggest challenges is expanding their customer base, something that has been a challenge since day one.
“When we were downtown it was a wonderful location, but it didn’t have the drive-by traffic so finding a way to grow that customer base was really difficult. There were days when Brenda and I were the biggest customers and we went home with way more produce than we needed,” Rollings said. “… I would say our biggest challenge today is still matching supply and demand. For the first time this year, we actually turned away a couple vegetable growers because we feel like we have saturated the demand for our customer base right now and it would be counter-productive for our current vendors to bring on more at this time. We would bring on somebody who’s unique.
“… We still hear so many people who don’t know that we’re there. I suppose when you’re open six hours a week that might be a challenge, but that’s the nature of farmers’ markets is fresh and now.”
To help with those challenges, the market changed from its original dates of Wednesday and Saturday to Tuesday and Friday because they were competing with large farmers’ markets in Columbia and Kansas City. Rollings said while she hears comments from people wishing Sedalia had a Saturday morning market, the current days “offer the best variety to our customers.”
While the market does have a variety of vendors, Rollings pointed out they are seeking additional fruit vendors.
SAFM utilizes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a website with email blasts to help keep people informed about vendor offerings each market day, as well as photos from farm visits.
Wednesday’s event began with a short presentation from 1 Million Cups Community Organizers Jessica Craig and Brenda Bryan, who attended a conference last month with other 1 Million Cups communities.
Bryan told the audience they attended to gain new ideas to improve the Sedalia chapter, noting that 1 Million Cups helps small businesses and entrepreneurs perfect their six-minute elevator speech, as presenters are limited to six minutes followed by a question-and-answer session. Craig said it’s “profound to know this is happening at the same time in 92 other communities.”
More information about their experience at the conference will be included in an upcoming edition of the Democrat.
1 Million Cups meetings are free and open to the public. They are hosted at 9 a.m. the first Wednesday of each month. For more information about 1 Million Cups, visit www.1millioncups.com/sedalia.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.