Regional Farmers Markets Are A Lifeline For Many Small Businesses

By Elaine Williams Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Thanks to many regional farmers markets, budding entrepreneurs get to road test new ideas while generating revenue. Many credit the markets with helping them reach broad audiences, which would be unavailable to them otherwise. Lewisten Tribune, Idaho Selling tamales brought stability to Erika Reel's family when it was teetering at the brink of financial disaster.

Her husband was hurt on the job and couldn't work. At the time, he was the only source of income for Reel and their daughter.

Reel began selling tamales at the Lewiston Public Market at his suggestion.

Sales weren't all that brisk, but Reel made some important friends. A market volunteer put her in touch with a restaurant owner who let Reel use her commercial kitchen to prepare the tamales.

The new production area gave Reel capacity to add the Pullman Farmers Market to places she sells her tamales. That led to a coveted spot at the Moscow Farmers Market, where she sells the bulk of her specialities each week.

"I'm looking for a food truck," Reel said. "It's a dream. ... I want to have a factory."

Reel is among dozens of budding entrepreneurs who road test new ideas at regional farmers markets. They credit the markets with helping them reach broad audiences, who would be unavailable to them otherwise, and serve as informal business incubators.

Organizers leverage their many connections creating relationships that increase sales. Customers are frequently as friendly as they are blunt, suggesting new items or ways to make flavors pop for the masses.

The goals of vendors at farmers markets vary. For some, like Reel, the markets provide supplemental income for a concept that, with enough fine tuning, might mushroom into a full-fledged business supporting more than one family.

Others, including Tiffany and Mark Corrao, of the Princeton area, sell at farmers markets to subsidize a lifestyle choice that otherwise would be out of reach. Excess milk from their dairy cow is made into cheese sold through Twin Creeks Farm.

Still others, like Jean Anglen of Pahattery, use farmers markets to support a hobby that gives shape and meaning to retirement. She fires ceramics made from white clay mined in the Deary area.

It's a process inspired by artisans she observed more than a decade ago when she visited the Navajo Nation, where pottery was fired in a pit heated with sage brush and horse manure.

Mariana's Tamales A table cloth billows on a warm, dry evening as Reel's tamales steam on a three-burner propane stove at the Lewiston Public Market. Rice is being kept warm in an electric pan.

She scouts a mostly empty parking lot for customers and wonders out loud if wind gusts are keeping people away. The absence of a line for the tamales that sell for $3 a piece is an indication of how fickle sales can be on the farmers markets circuit.

That outing stood in contrast to a day at the Moscow Farmers Market where one customer bought 100 tamales, Reel said. "It helps in different ways, but I need more."

Regardless of the pace of sales on any one day, Reel said she's miles ahead from where she started about four years ago.

Practice has sped preparation time.

She can form 100 tamales by hand in one hour when her fillings are ready, meaning she can get to bed earlier on Friday nights, when she has to awaken at 4 a.m. to be ready for the Moscow market's 8 a.m. Saturday opening.

For Moscow, she added a vegan version with lentils to her list of flavors such as pork with tomatillo sauce, chicken mole and green chile with Mexi-cheese.

None of what she's achieved would be possible without help from community members. A Lewiston Public Market volunteer, Michaela Neet, helped her navigate regulatory hoops such as getting her business license.

Neet also introduced her to Brava's Magen Goforth, who allowed her to use her commercial kitchen before Reel shifted to another restaurant where the kitchen is idle in the evenings.

"I just feel blessed," Reel said.

Twin Creeks Farm The setting at Twin Creeks Farm is idyllic. Ellie, the farm's milking cow, stands in a pasture that is part of a 15-acre plot of meadows edged by pine forests. Tiffany Corrao stays home with the couple's young son.

"We're hydrologists," said Mike Corrao. "We just wanted to live out in the middle of nowhere."

Making that happen was much more complex than it sounds, even though he is an owner of Northwest Management, an environmental consulting firm in Moscow, and their cow produces 5 gallons of milk per day -- more than they ever could consume.

"The (dairy products are) covering the home and all the operations," Corrao said.

Figuring out how to meet those expenses would be harder for the Corraos without the Moscow Farmers Market. That's where they're getting their milk and cheese in front of customers who would be unlikely to stumble on them along their remote road.

Sales rose more when an organizer suggested they share a booth with Camas Prairie Winery and do joint samplings. The approach also reduces fees.

Customers at the farmers market appreciate the nuances of their products, achieved through 65 hours per week of work.

He's responsible for infrastructure, constructing and renovating buildings. She handles day-to-day operations.

Ellie is at the center. She's milked every 12 hours starting at 5 a.m., and brushed every day. She is restricted to a diet dominated by grass and well water, not creek water, because they've found flavors from the latter surface in the milk.

They are just as careful about what the cheese tastes like, growing many of the seasonings included on site -- such as hot peppers and garlic -- and watching temperatures and cooking times closely.

"It truly is a science," he said. "Tiffany is one of the most consistent people I know."

Pahattery Anglen sometimes pays for her raw materials in carrots.

She brings the vegetables with her when she brushes the horses that board at her home near Cottonwood, Anglen said. "They have the best-groomed manes and tails of any horses in the county."

Anglen, who has no tribal affiliations, fires her statues, vases, burial urns and trinket boxes in a kiln, waiting until the temperature reaches 1,500 degrees.

Then she holds the horse hair in a pan and drips it into the kiln. The hair burns away, but leaves dark marks on the surfaces it touched. "It actually chooses what it's going to do," Anglen said. "It's a crapshoot. You don't know, which is part of the magic for me."

Selling pieces for between $25 and $110 at the Moscow Farmers Market pays for her hobby, Anglen said. "It's been a long time for me to come to this place where I can sell some, make more and have fun."

One of the strengths of the market is how the faces in the throngs change every week depending on what other events are happening in the community, Anglen said. "It's a very tolerant, open environment."

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