While chatting with Dan Kuebler of The Salad Garden about his booth at the Columbia Farmers Market for an upcoming story in the September 2021 issue of Feast, he mentioned the cherished relationships that he’s cultivated with the market organizers, his fellow vendors and patrons over the years. He called it his community.
On any given Saturday, you can see multigenerational families walking around the stalls, happy to see their favorite vendors and eager to meet new ones. Unlike a grocery store, the market provides an opportunity for conversation with the producers, which might include educational tidbits and personal anecdotes. You get to know who’s growing your food, where and why.
This knowledge is especially important today, when we’re losing that connection to our food. As I wrote in a feature for the June 2021 issue of Feast that focused on chef Gaby Weir Vera’s sustainable school lunch program at Windsor Street Montessori School in Columbia, Missouri, it’s so important to salute those who advocate for that connection. And that’s everyone you’ll meet at the Columbia Farmers Market.
Some of my favorite Saturday mornings have been spent getting lost in the crowd here. I love that it’s busy, but it doesn’t feel rushed. Especially now, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s sublime to interact in person. There’s time to ask questions, time to peruse, time to sample. I don’t make it every week, but for me, that makes each visit special.
Recalling the first time I made my way down the aisle of vendors, or what I craved, is not easy – I was just a kid who had hitched a ride with her mom. That was at least a decade before the concrete floors were poured and the roof went up, before I ever imagined my career would have anything to do with food. Now, I’m the mom, strolling my almost-one-year-old son from booth to booth, buying fresh, local food to eat with my family, with the chance to share my experiences with you. It makes my heart happy.
The Columbia Farmers Market is the heart of the city’s culinary community. Many restaurants source their ingredients from the same vendors that sell here on Saturdays – because who wouldn’t seek out the freshest, most flavorful picks for their kitchen? The market has persevered through rainy days and frigid winters, and it received the “COVID Crusher” award from the city of Columbia, designating it as one of the organizations that went above and beyond to implement COVID-19 safety measures. Curbside pickups, social distancing measures and mask mandates ensured that we could still shop and feel safe.
With the growth of the market in the last few years, there’s an even greater focus on education for all ages. I’m excited to enroll my son in the Good Food Detectives program, where he can earn spending cash by learning about good food practices at the market. As the world begins to open up again, I look forward to the cooking demonstrations and interactive workshops the market has held in the past.
I find myself making plans around market days, which are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday throughout the summer, and I want to share some of my favorite vendors – and others that I’m excited to meet – with you so that you might find new inspiration for your next visit.