Building a Neighborhood

Entering our 6th Year of Running a Farmer’s Market, we have learned some things about how we like to run our Market. Of course, some people might choose differently, and we do not have it perfect, but it’s still fascinating to me about how things evolve and why things are constructed the way they are.

First of all, I believe we are the only completely volunteer-run market! Every Tuesday, some of our church members get up at 6 a.m. to haul the signs to the street to put them up for the day. We believe our Farmer’s Market is our ministry, we believe that being in the community and giving opportunity to the community to gather is worth the hard work. Christ-centered for us, we strive to help our farmers any way we can. If the tent is blowing, we grab it. If someone’s stand falls over, we clean it up. If a customer needs something, we strive to help. If it’s pouring, we make coffee. We do this because it’s God’s work to support the community. We do it because we want people to glimpse the church in action. We do this not to push our beliefs, but to instead show them. However, we are human, and the response you get may differ some depending on which volunteer you talk to that day (we wear green shirts).

We started with 4 vendors and 150 people at our grand opening. We were thrilled! We mocked up some forms for our vendors and quickly decided that each vendor is responsible for themselves, but we also want each vendor to succeed. We had a checklist about when to arrive, how to clean up and of course a line about being civil to one another, because we are a church. This promise to be civil to one another has become a founding statement for a market that strives to build a community in the neighborhood instead of being cutthroat or competitive.

Here are some things we’ve discovered.

  1. Strive for Balance: We are a small market and try not to have many repeats of products. For example, we can’t fit 4 bread makers at the cost of other vendors. We try to have a balanced market, which helps with the community atmosphere.
  2. Locally Grown/Made: We want this to be a farmer’s market, not a resale or a Tupperware home business. Markets are unique in that they have products that help the local economy! As such, we are truly a community-focused market with local products!
  3. On the other hand, we decided to have as many farmers as possible (keyword Farmer in Farmer’s Market), but not too much hot food. Yes, Farmers are repeats, but they also carry their own products and have their own growing philosophies.
  4. We don’t open till all the farmers are present, because that keeps it fair. Unfortunately, if you open before everyone is there, then vendors feel pressure to arrive earlier and earlier. Again, this rule can be annoying but is to help keep things equal.
  5. Kid & Dog Friendly, and what about bikes?!? It’s hard to find the safety line about how to keep people safe with dogs and kids running about. Since we are volunteer run, some of our volunteers would like no running from kids and all dogs on a leash. Others of us believe the owners/parents are the ones responsible and we should let them decide. I will admit we are still working on this one.  When we have the human-power we put up our cute preschool playground, which definitely helps. Also, we are planning to have an Amazing Athletes program inside to give kids an opportunity to run around while their parents shop. And of course, we love bikes (walk in, bike in, drive in!), but it does feel less scary if bikes are walked through the actual market area.
  6. Parking: As our market grows we hope people will continue to find parking on the streets or nearby and attend the market. This is a great problem to have when the lot is full, but we fully admit we continue to rearrange vendors and such to try to make as much room as possible and keep the lot safe all at the same time!
  7. Local Musicians, who we pay: We actually give a small stipend to our musicians, because we are grateful and excited to support the local arts. However, the music can’t be too loud or our vendors can’t talk to their customers, and since we pay we have a limit as to how many musicians we have at the market.
  8. Kids Day at the Farmers Market: First one we had at the market and it was mostly grade-school children. The 2nd one we had after the market and it was mostly preschoolers. We’ve only had two and this is definitely a work in progress. We are experimenting again this year to make it a success.
  9. No Loud Trucks: We tried having some trucks in the lot before, and it was just too loud. We have decided to try to have a “Food Truck FridaySept. 29th instead, because we love food trucks, they just don’t fit our current market.
  10. T-shirts and Shopping Bags! Mid-year last year we decided to try to sell a bunch of t-shirts and bags to try to support the market (Did you see them? They are green.). We haven’t been very vocal about selling them yet, but we’ve decided we would love to involve more people for support. Similar to how the Chicken BBQ is a way to give back! Again most of the money we get from the actual market goes BACK into the market, so we are trying to fundraise some more!
  11. Partnerships: Early on we wanted to partner with the community if we could, so we reached out to Capital Roots and asked if they had any Farmers Market Programs. Turns out they are running a fresh donation basket, which we have put out since the very beginning of the Market. This basket provides hundreds of pounds of healthy food to those in need. New Covenant continues to hope to deepen this partnership as time goes on.
  12. Volunteers Welcome! Since we are volunteer run, we have had some luck in getting some community members, who aren’t church members, involved in helping us out. We would love your help, especially if you have ideas about what to do.

So there it is! The Long List of what we have decided, learned and built in the last 5 years. I’m excited to see how our community changes and grows in the future, but for now we are very excited about not just the Farmers Market but also the culture we are building with it. We believe this is more than just a Market its a ministry, a mission and culture for the future.


Published by katyandtheword

Pastor Katy has enjoyed ministry at New Covenant since 2010, where the church has solidified its community focus. Prior to that she studied both Theology and Christian Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also served as an Assistant Chaplain at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and as the Christian Educational Coordinator at Bethany Presbyterian at Bloomfield, NJ. She is an writer and is published in Enfleshed, Sermonsuite, Presbyterian's today and Outlook. She writes prayers, liturgy, poems and public theology and is pursuing her doctorate in ministry in Creative Write and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She enjoys working within and connecting to the community, is known to laugh a lot during service, and tells as many stories as possible. Pastor Katy loves reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, theater, arts and crafts, music, playing with children and sunshine, and continues to try to be as (w)holistically Christian as possible. "Publisher after publisher turned down A Wrinkle in Time," L'Engle wrote, "because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was too difficult for children, and was it a children's or an adult's book, anyhow?" The next year it won the prestigious John Newbery Medal. Tolkien states in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegories and that the story was not one.[66] Instead he preferred what he termed "applicability", the freedom of the reader to interpret the work in the light of his or her own life and times.

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