Kristof Ostlund and his crew set up his burrito stand, Solaz, at the Ithaca Farmers Market in 15 minutes, but they don’t start serving until every member of the crew has eaten. Ostlund makes a burrito about every 35 seconds; six hours at the Saturday market means Ostlund and his crew use over 700 tortillas.
Ostlund is one of over 160 vendors at the award-winning Ithaca Farmers Market, which celebrated its 40th anniversary October 27. The Ithaca Farmers Market hosts local produce, baked goods, crafts and wine vendors that sell on one or all of the five market days.
The Ithaca Farmers Market began with a collection of vendors coming together to sell produce in the parking lot of Agway on South Fulton Street. Since 1973, the market has moved five times and expanded to four separate locations besides the main market at Steamboat Landing.
The biggest challenge the market currently faces is making space for all the vendors at Steamboat Landing, and for visitors in the parking lot. Open five days a week, 52 weeks a year, the market often attracts well over 5,000 people a day.
“Now we have a pavilion at a major waterfront site and we’re one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area and one of the most important markets in the area too,” said Aaron Munzer, Assistant Manager of the Ithaca Farmers Market.
Diane Eggert, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Federation of New York said, “The Ithaca Farmers Market has set an example – the quality of products, the relationships with consumers as a whole – they’ve really served as a role model [for other farmers markets].”
There are markets in other towns, but the Ithaca Farmers Market was a success here because farmers found Ithaca had a large, reliable customer base where people regularly wanted to purchase their produce. The Ithaca Farmers Market is among 600 farmers markets in New York State.
While this may not be different from other farmers markets, it is important for farmers to have direct access to consumers and sell at retail prices because it “provides farmers with a higher profit margin than more traditional marketing outlets,” according to research done by the Farmers Market Federation of New York.
The Ithaca Farmers Market does not solely cater to organic growers, it plays a big part in the local food movement, as all of its vendors must have products grown and raised within 30 miles of the main market at Steamboat Landing, as set by the IFM Board of Directors.
“We don’t really have a role in the organic food movement, but I would say we are part of the local foods movement and I think that’s almost more important,” Munzer said. “Buying locally keeps the economy vibrant and healthy and folks are able to have viable farms.”
Ostlund gets organic black beans for his burritos from Potenza Organic Produce in Trumansburg, and other produce from his neighbor at the weekend market.
“Some products are local and some aren’t,” Ostlund said, “It just depends on the time of year and what’s available.”
While some market locations in Ithaca close in the upcoming weeks, the Ithaca Farmers Market remains open year-round. Ostlund is one vendor who sells at a few markets several weeks out of the year, but in his off-season from January to March he does income taxes for H&R Block.
“Doing somebody else’s taxes is like some huge puzzle you have to solve, it’s really neat. Doing your own taxes sucks,” Ostlund said as he made a customer’s burrito.
Solaz has been at the farmers market for 24 years, but from 1993 to 2001, Ostlund owned Coyote Loco, now Agava Restaurant, on Pine Tree Road in Ithaca.
Though Coyote Loco is now closed, Ostlund said he never gave up his booth at the market “because this is where the fun is.”
Alexandra Leslie and Sara Webb are senior Journalism majors at Ithaca College. You can reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.