As a native Victorian, I love our downtown, with its beautiful buildings full of rich history and picturesque town square framed by majestic live oaks and pecans. As the manager of the Victoria Farmers Market, I would have loved for us to succeed downtown. However, I strongly reject the editorial board’s insinuation that the market’s worth lies in its potential role in downtown revitalization.
In April 2016, under the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, the Downtown Farmers Market opened at DeLeon Plaza to tables loaded with fresh produce and homemade foods, live music and, most importantly, crowds of customers. The Food Bank, market manager, farmers and other vendors worked tirelessly for the market’s success.
Barely a year later, we were struggling to survive. The bustling noise of customer traffic had been replaced by the rustle of those same trees and the hourly courthouse bell. Some of those farms who helped usher in the inaugural season left because the market was not profitable for them.
After closing for the summer, the vendors voted to return to the market’s former location at the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center.
Why, you ask?
First, paying for DeLeon Plaza, portable toilets and displaying a banner over Main Street proved prohibitively expensive.
Second, if DeLeon Plaza was reserved for another event, we were unable to hold the farmers market. This inconsistent schedule negatively affected our reputation because customers could not count on us to be open.
Third, we simply did not have enough customers to sustain and grow the market. Many of the customers who did visit said that they often forgot about us. Our farmers, bakers and artisans depend on the market for a weekly income, and their businesses were at risk of failing. We began 2017 with fewer farms in our membership than 2016. The market was shrinking, not growing.
In addition, loading and unloading from the street was difficult for the vendors. Customers with mobility issues repeatedly told us how they missed the convenient parking and accessibility of the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center.
Since the market’s return to the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, our weekly crowds are larger than they ever were downtown. We have been wildly successful at attracting new customers and turning them into regular customers, and our former customers who never visited us downtown have returned. New farmers have joined the market, including two in the past 10 days. We are growing again.
Last spring, mere weeks before the market was scheduled to close for the summer, one vendor proposed that the market remain open instead. The vendors voted to remain open year-round for the first time in the market’s 34-year history. We have been open continuously since November 2017.
It turns out our customers much prefer the soon-to-be-repaved “pothole-ridden parking lot off busy Navarro Street,” and we are delighted to be there.
If Victoria wants a thriving farmers market, as our growing crowds suggest, then it must be held in the best location for convenience, accessibility and visibility. For us, that is the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, and we are immensely grateful to Victoria County for welcoming us back. Our long-term plan is to raise funds for an open-air pavilion to improve the market experience for both customers and vendors.
If you have not visited the farmers market, I encourage you to come see us Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Browse our selection of fresh, locally grown seasonal produce; pastured meats, including beef, pork, lamb and chicken; farm eggs; a variety of homemade jellies; pickles; baked goods and so much more.
If the editorial board had contacted me, I would have happily educated them on the reasons for our move. It is my job to connect farmers with customers, and I cannot ask the farmers to sacrifice their livelihood for the sake of nostalgia.