tomatoes are bright red, cucumbers deep green and the weather inviting as summer wanes and fall breezes start to blow through farmers markets in the Northland.
Although the year-round bounty of the City Market in downtown Kansas City is just a few minutes away, many residents north of the river prefer getting their produce closer to home. Anchor markets in Parkville and Liberty and smaller markets in Gladstone, Platte City, North Kansas City and Weston offer the opportunity to buy fresh — often organic produce from nearby farmers.
Most are open until the end of October, and this year, many farmers are able to extend offerings longer than usual thanks to heavy rains early in the summer and a late arrival of the peak growing season.
On the Historic Downtown Liberty Square, Providence Farms is where Dan and Brenda Stipes know they will end up spending money most Saturday mornings.
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The Gladstone couple was already tempted into onions and a watermelon before reaching their favorite booth for tomatoes. It’s OK, though; they planned on getting more than they came for. It is part of the fun of shopping at farmer’s markets, where customers enjoy the hunt, finding fresh product grown locally and getting to know the people who picked the crop.
“You can tell the difference,” Dan Stipes said. “We buy from local vendors and farmers. You gotta support the local guy. I think there’s a taste difference, too.”
Like many customers, the Stipeses do not grow their own vegetables at home.
“We have squirrels,” Brenda Stipes explains. “We tried tomatoes, but it does not work out because of the squirrels.”
They come all season long and enjoy developing a relationship with the vendors.
“After going every Saturday, the vendors recognize you, not by name, but by face and it’s nice you can establish a relationship,” Dan Stipes said.
Providence Farms is a favorite for the Stipeses. Mom, dad and some of the 12 children of Lisa and Gerry Newman are out Saturday mornings from April to October in their booth on the Liberty Square selling, sorting and bagging fruits and vegetables for customers. Produce sales are the family’s primary source of income. They farm about 8 acres with rotating crops in Trenton. The family picks the produce by hand and farms organically. They’ve been coming to the Liberty market for nine years.
“We’ve established a nice little community of loyal followers here; people who believe in organic farming, organic vegetables,” Lisa Newman said. “Everything is bunched by us and the children. So, everyone knows a lot of love goes to what is out on the stand.”
On another corner of the square is a newcomer stand manned by Lisa Hamm of Hamm Family Farms. She has baby number 3 in a front carrier and is chatting up veggies and eggs to the customers. It is the first year the Hamm family has come to the Liberty Farmers Market. Last year, they started a roadside stand next to their house. It went well. So, they decided to go bigger.
“My husband loves to grow things. He had talked about getting into something local, something in the community.” Hamm said. “It’s been great.”
They still have a roadside stand in front of their farm. This year it is bigger.
The Hamm Family Farms and Providence Farms represent the two types of vendors customers will find at Northland farmers markets. The larger operations can be successful as a primary source of income for farmers. The smaller vendors are often doing it as a sideline. Both are small business owners who have to meet equally high standards. They are vetted by boards often run by vendors themselves. They must grow or create what they sell themselves and do it locally— – usually within 100 to 150 miles.
With a cool wet summer behind them, the fall provides an opportunity for catch-up. Cooler temperatures and the hustle of fall activities mean crowds thin out at the Saturday Farmer’s Markets, but there are still plenty of weeks to go. This fall, some crops are coming in later than usual. Newman explains, “Fall will bring winter squashes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and pumpkins. A lot of greens start coming back, too.”
Over at the Parkville Farmers Market between downtown Parkville and English Landing Park, the apples will soon be plentiful. Market manager Shelley Oberdiek of River’s Edge Produce is from Platte City, but sells her produce at several markets and roadside stands. Oberdiek says customers can still expect lots of acorn squash, sweet corn, watermelon and many more weeks of tomatoes. Customers tend to drop off in the fall for this Saturday market.
The market has been around for about 30 years and has its own canopy that can handle 32 stalls. It was run by the city until a couple of years ago when the vendors began to manage it themselves. While this market is one of the larger ones in the Northland, they have seen a growth in competition and have decided to not just rely on fresh produce to bring in the customers. They also have arts vendors and this year brought in a busker to attract with music.
“We are constantly trying to come up with different ideas, something new. In recent years, there are more and more markets. There are other places to go. So we’re trying to make Parkville a very friendly and unique market to come,” Oberdiek said.
Historic Downtown Liberty Square’s market also offered a unique — non-farming — option this summer. The Corbin Theatre Co., which is on the east side of the square, offered free theater workshops for kids.
“The parents can drop their kids off for an hour and have fun activities while the parents can have fun shopping at the farmer’s market,” said Kimberly Glover, who helped teach the workshops and is on the board for the theater. The workshops, which were each on a different topic, included lessons on character development, auditioning and Shakespeare. Kids also got the chance to participate in a two-week patriotic songs workshop, and perform during Fourth of July celebrations in Liberty. Although the workshops ended with the start of school, they were so successful the theater plans to continue them next summer.
Liberty and Parkville are the largest markets in the area with dozens of vendors each week. Other farmers market stops are much smaller with as few as two to 10 vendors, depending on what is in season.
The smaller markets may seem like a sideline to a trip to the grocery store, gym, farm store or park, where customers can browse through a few tents set up in a parking lot. Do not be fooled by the size. The quality on the product and standards for production are the same. Vendors and the customers who frequent them rely just as much on the smaller markets as the larger ones. Some smaller markets also offer the benefit of a mid-week shopping option.
The Gladstone Farmers Market, shows up in the parking lot of the Hy-Vee at 72nd and North Prospect every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. Randy Polley, who farms 80 acres at his Bear Lake Farm out of Ridgeway, Mo., brings produce here and to the equally modest-sized farmers market in the parking lot of the Liberty Feldman’s store Wednesday mornings. For the Saturday market, he picks on Friday, gets up at 3:30 a.m. in the morning Saturday and is at the store parking lot by 6 a.m. in order to be ready to sell by 7 a.m. The market averages about seven vendors, including a couple of artists.
As a vendor, he has been approached to have his produce at the larger markets, but prefers the smaller venues. He generally gets the same customers week after week. “I think we bring down a number one quality product, and we do it consistently. That is what I hear from customers most often. They know when they come here, it’s fresh, it’s good, it’s ready to go,” Polley said.
Shopper Marilyn Ahnefeld walked away with peaches and red potatoes on a Saturday morning in August. She had purchased tomatoes earlier in the week. Ahnefeld buys regularly at the market and likes the dependability of the product. “I know what I’m getting, and I have good success,” Ahnefeld said. “I like to support area growers. I think it’s very generous of Hy-Vee to allocate this space for that purpose.”
An agreement with Hy-Vee gives the growers a 10-year lease on the space for free. The growers are also offered the opportunity to sell extra produce to the store for sale in the produce isles there. Polley has an agreement to supplement to Hy-Vee. He often also donates extras to local church food pantries.
Local artists also get an opportunity to sell at the markets like the one in Gladstone. Kathy Peironnet sells her “KAT Tracks” original creations including tie-dyed clothing, watercolor, photography and jewelry at the Gladstone Farmers Market. She is one of just a few art vendors allowed. Before taking her spot at the market, Peironnet’s work was juried and approved.
For the retired art teacher, the market offered a new venue for her work.
“I was looking for an outlet north of the river to sell my things at other times besides Christmas,” Peironnet said. Since she has started coming to the markets, she has also found a small community with the other vendors and repeat customers. It also provides an opportunity for Peironnet to supplement her own dinner table with fresh produce.
“I go home every week with fresh vegetables that are homegrown,” Peironnet said. “I’ve probably spent more today than I’ve made. I’m getting the benefit of fresh produce without having to search it out at the grocery store.”
Smaller markets usually draw the local crowd. Larger markets, like the one on the Historic Downtown Liberty Square and in Parkville, have a wider appeal, offering a morning activity and the opportunity to spend some enjoyable time outside and perhaps take in lunch as a nearby restaurant. Shoppers can plan on these larger markets being open all morning. In the smaller markets, with a more local crowd, it is important to get there early before the farmers sell out.
Each market serves its community in a slightly different way. At the North Kansas City Farmers Market, which is open on Friday mornings, autumn actually brings a little uptick in traffic.
Parents with children back in school are more likely to stop by. The market is run by the North Kansas City Business Council and offers incentives for locals to buy produce. People with Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) cards can get double their buying power up to $25 on fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. The market is very small but offers a sense of community that the business council’s administrative and event coordinator, Jennifer Keller, says is important.
“The goal is to serve the local community and to provide the opportunity for the local community and the work community to enjoy it,” Keller said. “We also want to create a sense of community between the businesses and the residents.”
Where to go
While some markets will be shutting down in September, most in the area will be open until late October.
Here is a partial list of Northland markets:
▪ Briarcliff Farmers Market
Where: Briarcliff Village, 4151 N. Mulberry Drive, Kansas City (in front of the Green Acres Market)
When: Thursday afternoons 3 to 7 p.m. (May to September)
▪ Gladstone Farmers Market
Where: Hy-Vee Parking Lot, 72nd and North Prospect
When: Wednesday afternoons 2 to 6 p.m., and Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to noon (May 1 to Oct. 30)
▪ Historic Downtown Liberty Farmers Market
Where: Around the Historic Downtown Liberty Square, 111 N. Water St., Liberty
When: Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to noon (May to October)
▪ Liberty Farmers Market
Where: Feldman’s Parking Lot, near the intersection of Missouri 291 and Missouri 152 in Liberty, 1332 W. Kansas St.
When: Wednesday afternoons 7 a.m. to noon (May 1 to Oct. 30)
▪ North Kansas City Farmers Market
Where: Caboose Park — Armour Road and Howell Street, North Kansas City
When: Fridays 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (first Friday in May to last Friday in October)
▪ Parkville Farmers Market
Where: English Landing Park, south of Missouri 9 in downtown Parkville
When: Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to sellout, and Wednesday afternoons 2 to 5 p.m. (late April to October)
▪ Platte City Farmers Market
Where: Running Horse Farm and Home store parking lot, 2601 Running Horse Road
When: Saturday mornings 7 to 11 a.m. (end of May to Sept. 12)
▪ Zona Rosa Farmers Market
Where: Zona Rosa, in the breezeway between Victoria’s Secret and Hot Topic at the intersection of southwest area of Missouri 152 and Interstate 29
When: Thursday evenings 5 to 8 p.m. (over for the season)
▪ The Farmers House Market
Where: East of Weston between Platte City and Weston, 23200 Missouri 273
When: Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Fresh produce in season.
▪ Red Barn Farm
Where: East of Weston off Missouri 273, 16300 Wilkerson Road
When: After Labor Day, Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Open until mid-November)