Indiana's farmers markets give a boost to small farmers
SPICELAND, Ind. (AP) — When Kristy Kikly and Mike Hoopengardner got married 35 years ago, they never would have imagined that they’d end up making cheese on a 57-acre goat farm in Spiceland, Indiana.
But after six years of doing just that, Kikly was able to leave her job at Eli Lilly, and Hoopengardner his work as a stained glass restoration artist, to work on the Rosebud Farms full time.
“How many people get the opportunity to drop corporate America, and build a farm and live on that farm?” said Hoopengardner. “It’s a dream for a lot of people to be able to break loose from all of that sort of stuff.”
Hoopengardner, who sells at the Broad Ripple Farmers Market, credits their business success to access the consumers and distributors they come into contact with at the state’s many farmers markets. Their cheese, sold under the brand Caprini Creamery, is now distributed wholesale to shops and restaurants throughout Central Indiana. But it was at farmers markets where the couple made the connections that grew their business.
“It opened the door for us,” said Hoopengardner. “We’ll make that connection at the farmer’s market, and the next thing you know I’m delivering to Good Earth in Broad Ripple. So it all kind of works together.”
Hoopengardner and Kikly are part of an ongoing trend of small, often sustainable farmers who are connecting directly to consumers at farmers markets, according to Christina McDougall, executive director of the Hoosier Farmers Market Association.
“Most of our farmers, at farmers markets in Central Indiana at least, go beyond the organic story, so they’re exceeding those USDA organic certifications,” McDougall said.
That’s important for some consumers, McDougall said, who may be seeking out chemical-free produce because of health issues, or who want to be sure that livestock are raised in what they see as more ethical, sustainable conditions.
“(Farmers) want to be able to tell that story, and each one of those engagements and conversations (at farmers markets) provides that opportunity,” McDougall said.
In addition to providing a more direct marketing opportunity to consumers, McDougall said that the markets provide time for farmers to interact and learn from one another.
“Every time a farmer is having an interaction or a vendor is having an interaction with a customer at market, they can modify and adapt that story and test what’s actually working for them as a farmer,” she said.
Customer interactions also help small farmers keep up with dieting trends. Jonathan Shannon, whose family raises livestock in Crawfordsville, said that customer requests are an important part of his business.
“We’ve always sold direct to consumer,” Shannon said. His journey began in 2004, when he returned with his wife to her family’s farm. They began raising grass-fed cattle for their own freezer, but it wasn’t long before people started asking to purchase their meat. That’s when Shannon realized there was a market for what he was doing.
“Being able to talk to that customer, that consumer, build a relationship and offer what they were looking for … farmers markets are essential for that feedback,” said Shannon. He recently expanded his business into a brick-and-mortar storefront in downtown Crawfordsville.
Shannon credits part of his success to an increased customer interest in local food. If the number of farmers markets is any indication, that growth is exponential: In the last 15 years, the nationwide number of farmers markets has nearly quintupled, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In Indiana, there are at least 194 farmers markets, and central Indiana leads the nation with the highest concentration of farmers markets per capita.
“People like to see the connection,” he said. “It’s not going to some big corporation in another state. We’re going to the local feed mill, the local hardware store. It’s all getting reinvested into local people.”