By J.B. Smith Tribune-Herald staff writer
The seed for a downtown Waco farmers market is taking root.
About 20 downtown advocates, producers and fans of fresh food met this week to plan an informal market that could start as early as June.
“A farmers market is the No. 1 thing I hear when I ask people what they want to see downtown,” said Chris McGowan, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce urban development director, who led the meeting Wednesday. He suggested starting with a small, “spontaneous” operation in a parking lot.
“We want people to show up, have a good time and make some money so we can build this into something sustainable,” he said.
The operation could develop into a year-round permanent market with local music and stands selling sandwiches, flowers, homemade soap, baked goods and other locally produced items, he said.
Officials from the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition volunteered to sponsor the market and organize a committee to make decisions on location, times and rules.
The coalition, which includes World Hunger Relief Inc., has helped create community gardens in the inner city. World Hunger Relief is a sustainable agriculture training farm in Elm Mott that offers a subscription produce service.
Indian Spring Park surfaced as a top contender for a downtown farmers market, but other sites near River Square Center, Heritage Square or the Dr Pepper Museum are also being considered.
The group discussed either Thursday evening or Saturday morning as possible times for the market.
The meeting drew a variety of interested people, including a woman who grows squash in her back yard and interns at World Hunger Relief.
Rick Allen, dean of Rapoport High School, said his school would like to sell produce from its garden.
A Texas AgriLife Extension agent said she would be willing to do cooking demonstrations, as did Ulljah Kuntze, a chef who formerly owned a European bakery in Waco.
“I want to have people appreciate food and the connection between the planet and the plate,” Kuntze said. “I think we can make this farmers market one of the best.”
Eric Tippit and Karen Dierolf, who recently started a goat dairy between Ross and Gholson, called Caprino Royal, said they were potential vendors. They sell their goat cheese at the Dallas Farmers Market, but never considered selling it here until now.
“We didn’t think there would be a lot market locally,” Tippit said.
But he said a farmers market could generate that local demand.
“Waco is in deep need of it, and downtown is the best location,” he said. “I sure would like to see it be successful. But what it needs is some hard-core marketing.”
Waco already has the Heart of Texas Farmers Market on Bosque Boulevard on the county’s fairground property, but Tippit said it lacks variety and exposure.
Heart of Texas Farmers Market officials were not aware of Wednesday’s meeting but said later they have no objection to a second farmers market in Waco.
The group’s president, Joe Barrow of Mexia, said Waco is big enough for two.
“It is, as long as people will keep good-quality merchandise,” said Barrow, who runs a peach orchard. “There’s a big demand for fruits and vegetables. People get apprehensive about buying produce at the store because every time you turn around, there’s a recall.
“They would like to have locally grown food that’s fresher and safer.”
The Heart of Texas group formed in 1983 and originally operated out of a building in East Waco. It has seen its member list dwindle from about 60 to about 20 now.
The seasonal market, certified and marketed by the Texas Department of Agriculture, operates Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Advocates for the downtown farmers market plan to meet again to discuss details.
Officials from Waco health, parks and recreation and planning departments attended the meeting and consulted with the group on how to comply with city rules.
Jonathan Cook of the parks department said the city would normally require each vendor to get a $250 vendors permit. But he would look at a way to get it waived for the farmers market. He said the city might also help with restrooms and traffic control.