A new farmers market opens Saturday in Idaho’s capitol city. The Boise Farmers Market comes on the heels of a big dust-up with the city’s long-standing market. Now, each side says Boise can support both markets.
Janie Burns mingles with local farmers in an empty parking lot in downtown Boise. The private lot is near the city's busy freeway entrance and it's the newest place to get local foods. Burns, a Nampa farmer, checks out where she’ll sell eggs and lamb at the Boise Farmers Market:
“It’s like moving into a new house," says Burns. "You don’t know exactly where all the furniture’s going to go, and so you’ve got to try it in a few different places.”
For almost two decades, Burns was a vendor at the Capital City Public Market, which has been around for 20 years. She and a few dozen other vendors decided to start their own farmer’s market after a turbulent couple of years.
“The business environment of Capital City was not in our best interest," she says. "And we found it impossible to change that one. So we are creating a new market with a new vision, and a lot of new opportunities.”
Burns says the decision to break away from the Capital City Public Market was difficult. But she says that over the years - as the Market grew and more artisans and prepared food vendors joined - many of her customers stopped coming. On a peak weekend, 17,000 people visit the Capital City Public Market in the heart of downtown Boise.
At the parking lot of the new Boise Farmers Market, 13 farmers have committed to the season. Organizers say they want to keep the new market small. Josie Erskine agrees. She’s with Peaceful Belly Farm in Ada County. Erskine decided to leave Capital City in part because of customer confidence.
“This market is one that if somebody walks up to me and says, ‘Is everything at this market grown by the person who’s selling it?’ I can look them in my eye and say, ‘Yes.’ And I’ve never had that ability before at the Capitol City Public Market,” says Erskine.
But Lisa Duplessie, the executive director of the Capital City Public Market, doesn't agree.
“We’re 100 percent producer only market," says Duplessie. "I would never want to sit down and say that we were 100 percent producer only if I didn’t think that was true.”
She says there’s a system in place to ensure that the food sold at the Capital City Market comes directly from vendors. But there have been questions raised about that in the past, including by some of the farmers at the new market.
Another reason as to why Boise has two markets now goes back to last fall. That’s when the market’s governing board fired Karen Ellis, founder and executive director at Capital City.
Duplessie says she recognizes the work that Ellis did.
“I think that what Karen did for downtown and for the market was an amazing amazing feat," Duplessie says. "I think that organizations grow – organizations need to be driven out the front window of the vehicle and not looking in the rear-view mirror.”
Duplessie says she’s excited about Capital City’s future. She says it will remain “the place to be” on the weekends with 150 vendors.
And she's confident that Boise can support both markets. Ellis, the manager of the new Boise Farmers Market, agrees. She points to other cities in the Northwest that thrive with more than one market – cities like Missoula, Walla Walla and Portland.
“We’re not looking to say, ‘Oh, pick one or the other,’ " says Ellis. "We have friends still over there. Our goal has always been to reinvent ourselves, to be an ag market, and to bring back our customers because of the size and the growth of that market.”
Now, more than 6 months since being fired, Ellis says she’s moved on.
She says she’s proud of her time at Capitol City, and excited to create a new food-centric market.
“The mission of this market is to not only sell produce but to help create a better ag economy back and forth with vendors themselves as well as other customers," she says.
Farmers will sell herbs, lettuce, eggs and meat when the Boise Farmers Market opens tomorrow. The fledging market will have a couple weeks to work out the kinks before the Capitol City Public Market opens on April 20th.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio