Many people are familiar with the stock market on Wall Street, but what about the farmers market in Waco? Bethel Erickson-Bruce, Market Manager of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, shared how Waco’s primary farmers market has created opportunities for farmers, entrepreneurs, locals, and tourists to invest in Waco and connect with the community in a deeper way.
The Market started in 2011, but it took several years of preparation to open. The biggest challenge was overcoming regulations on the sale of agricultural products. Initially, farmers markets were restricted to selling fruits and vegetables, and acquiring permits was difficult. “It was a really backwards way of recognizing farmers markets,” said Erickson-Bruce, “especially not allowing any prepared foods as well as other agricultural goods we have in this area.”
Because of this legislative hurdle, the Market’s team collaborated with local farmers, small business owners, and city councilmen to draft new legislation. They approached the City of Waco to create the Waco Farmers Market Permit Ordinance, which expanded the products available at farmers markets to include more agricultural products such as dairy, meat, and honey, as well as prepared foods and artisan products.
This legislative change has allowed the Market to grow its platform of vendors. In 2011, the Market began with 15 vendors and has now reached around 40 vendors, including fruit and vegetable producers, meat, egg, and dairy producers, plant vendors, artisan vendors, and food trucks.
Since its inception, the Market’s mission has been “to bring locally grown and produced goods to downtown Waco in order to support local farmers and artisans as well as to enrich the culture of our community.” According to the Market’s 2019 Annual Report, 66% of all vendors are Waco-based, and the average distance to farm is 33 miles. Additionally, vendors generated an estimated $875,000 in sales during 2019.
For most college students, farmers markets may seem foreign or obsolete compared to grocery stores, but Erickson-Bruce offers a different perspective. “Some of the misconceptions are that it’s going to be more expensive than the grocery store,” she said. “When you compare quality and the freshness, you can’t compare that to something you get in the grocery store.“
In addition to better quality of products, farmers markets also offer a unique and meaningful social experience that is absent at the grocery store. “When you come to a farmers market, you know the person who grew your chickens and can tell you about every step of their life,” she said. “You’re really getting to know at a local level who are the people who grow and build up the local economy.”
The farmers market experience is more than just grocery shopping; it is a place to enjoy great food and great company. “It was always important to me to have something that is nonessential like going out for breakfast on a Saturday morning,” Erickson-Bruce said. There is something for everyone, and the unique atmosphere keeps people coming back. “I don’t think grocery shopping at HEB gives people joy like shopping at a farmers market can.”
For vendors, the Market has been a great platform for young entrepreneurs to start their businesses. “We’ve had more and more vendors in recent years actually expand to a storefront,” Erickson-Bruce said.
Two popular vendors that started at the Market and now have their own storefronts are Nightlight Donuts and Kurbside Coffee. “That’s what we want to see,” Erickson-Bruce said. “We want to see that they are able to start a business and have it be successful and grow beyond just a tent stall.”
“There is something for everyone, and the unique atmosphere keeps people coming back.”
In recent years, the Market has continued to attract locals and tourists, and the pandemic significantly increased sales. “People were looking for a safe environment, an open-air environment, that they could shop when people were scared to go into grocery stores,” Erickson-Bruce said.
Looking ahead, Erickson-Bruce wants to keep growing the Market by cultivating more growers in the area and expanding its customer base. “How can we help that next generation as more and more farmers age out of this system?”
In the meantime, she encourages college students to spend a Saturday morning experiencing a new and exciting side of the Waco community. “Come out and get a plant, a coffee, or some broccoli!” There are lots of samples and opportunities to try new foods, and she said it is a great way to support and befriend local farmers and entrepreneurs.
The Waco Downtown Farmers Market is located at 500 Washington Avenue across from Café Cappuccino and is currently open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To find more information, check out www.wacodowntownfarmersmarket.org.
“Come out and get a plant, a coffee, or some broccoli!”
Andrew Hall ('21) studied finance, math, and political science at Baylor University and was a Baylor in Washington Program participant during the Spring 2021 semester. He works as an Advisory Associate for Calvetti Ferguson in San Antonio, TX. He enjoys reading the Bible, spending time with his local church, and learning how to incorporate faith into the realms of finance and entrepreneurship.