Throughout the season we learned how to use our space – in particular the importance of paperweights, binder clips, and bungee cords to deal with the breezy location. We lucked out with the weather – just enough yucky weather days to learn a few valuable lessons, but mostly lovely afternoons to be outside. When a violent storm blew in during set-up, the community response was downright heartwarming. Not only did our whole staff race over from their safe dry offices to help me and Stephanie very literally hold down the fort, two of our heroes from the Champaign Center Partnership raced down and braved the rain and high winds to help vendors secure their tents and products. Once the storm blew through, over 700 loyal shoppers still came out, and it turned into a great day for our farmers.
All in all this first market season was a reassuring success. By our count over 17,000 patrons came to the market this season, with an average of 750 per week (jumping up to nearly 1,000 per week in peak season). Our Bastille Day festivities on le quatorze juillet brought over 1,200 shoppers out to enjoy special French themed products by our vendors, music, art, performers, and mustaches. Kids love mustaches.
We had a great time putting together workshops, demonstrations, and activities throughout the season. The Ugly Produce Beauty Pageant in September was a great way to highlight vendor products, and we were happy to see that shoppers were adamant that the weird, twisty, unusually shaped entries were not ugly at all. A number of our farmers led demonstrations on topics like cut flower arranging and custom tool fabrication, and we plan to offer more educational programming along these lines next year.
Our SNAP doubling program gave out over $1,000 in matching funds to lower-income shoppers, allowing struggling families to expand their food budgets while supporting our local farmers. Boosting this program is one of my primary goals for next season. We also worked with the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, and vendors donated on average $200-300 worth of fresh produce throughout peak season and through the end of the market.
I personally want to thank my colleagues, especially Stephanie who was out there every Tuesday with me, rain or shine, come heat or high winds. I also want to thank our volunteers Korah and Erika, the guys from Lambda Chi Alpha, and volunteers from iHelp in September. Thank you to our generous sponsors who helped make the market a reality. I’m also incredibly grateful to the dozens of community groups, downtown businesses, and individuals who came out and turned our market into a colorful, informative, fun place to spend a Tuesday afternoon. Most of all, I want to thank and applaud our wonderful array of vendors, who took a chance on a new market and worked hard to make Parking Lot M the place in Champaign for healthy, delicious local food. Monsieur Aubergine and I can’t wait for next season!