Craft and Harvest Amalgamate in Downtown Market

The Wabash bus station is a flurry of commuters and buses on most days. But every Sunday morning it is transformed into a public market featuring local food and craft. Every Sunday, starting at 9 a.m. lasting until 2 p.m., farmers and artisans come together in the parking lot between Orr and Tenth Street, joined by a musician providing acoustic entertainment.

Booths align the lot full of fresh produce, blooming mums, and beautifully twisted driftwood, among other crafts. To one side is a backdrop of a mural proclaiming the North Village arts district as the market’s home, on the other, the bus station. As I strolled through the parking lot, the beat of an African djembe combined with the radiant morning sun gave me a feeling of connectedness to the natural glory of an open market, free of glaring fluorescent lights and the background hum of supermarket coolers.

The Arts District mural pops out behind plump heirloom tomatoes.

Still in its first season, the market is not as bustling as the Columbia Farmer’s Market, but it attracts the largest variety of vendors. The emphasis is on reviving interest in the art district, as the vendor prices reflect cheaper rates for those who are located within the small corner of the northwestern edges of downtown Columbia.

Some artisans travel much farther than a couple blocks to the North Village market, like computer programmer and alpaca farmer Ann Mayes from Auxvasse. As she spins some of her alpaca yarn on a spinning wheel she told me about what she likes about the North Village market best: the interpersonal aspect. At the market she is able to fully explain the process of making her alpaca products, from the back of the alpaca to the knitting needles. The customers attracted to the North Village farmers market are also educated enough to realize why her items come with a more expensive price tag. “So many people don’t know your clothes don’t grow at Wal-Mart.” Ann’s alpaca creations are available every day at Good Nature, a store nestled in an alley between Ninth and Tenth Street, and at McAdams, Ltd located at Providence and Broadway; both stores are in the downtown area.

Ann Mayes spends her time at the market spinning her alpaca fiber into yarn, when the wind allows.

More students visit the North Village market than the other ones because of it’s convenient location in downtown and nearby campus, a close walk from East Campus and Benton-Stephens, popular student neighborhoods. This is what draws farmer Rhonda Borgmeyer to sell at the North Village market as well as the Columbia Farmer’s Market. “When you’re going to a different community, you’re catching the people who don’t have a vehicle.” Rhonda has room to spread out at this market, with a whole corner and three tables devoted to an array of produce, from peppers to potatoes to pumpkins, she’s got it all. In her fifth year of farming on a 30-acre plot, Rhonda has uncovered the “thrill to see other people eating your produce.”

One farmer travels no more than a mile to get his customers fresh produce. That is Billy Polansky, a member of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. Just south of I-70 along College Avenue lays an urban farm that produces organic fruit, vegetables and herbs. The North Village market is the only community market CCUA sells at. Billy points out the unique advantage of more foot traffic with a downtown market, compared to the market at the urban farm, or even the other farmer’s markets, which are located in the northwest area of Columbia. “Columbia needed a downtown market.” There was a short period of time when CCUA was unable to sell produce at their urban farm, and then the Farmers and Artisans Market began, “it just serendipitously happened.” Read more about CCUA and their recent hootenanny here.

The Farmers and Artisans Market is a close bike ride or walk for anyone who lives around the downtown, East Campus, Benton-Stephens, campus, and Greektown area. Free parking is also available at the bus station and along Orr St. Even if your refrigerator is stocked, there are still many other goods to choose from. I picked up some stationary made out of recycled calendars for the ever-present family thank-you cards during my most recent visit.

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