Des Moines, Iowa
Thirty years after its creation in 1975, the Des Moines Farmers Market continues to meet one of its major goals: attracting people downtown to use the once vibrant city center for business and social events. Between 180 and 200 vendors from 44 of Iowa’s 99 counties market their goods on a closed off city street on Saturdays from May to October. Most of the 15,000 customers that come each market day perceive the central location as “everyone’s neighborhood, where everyone feels invited.”
Despite challenges like a lack of access to electricity, the market helps downtown Des Moines reclaim the sense of place it enjoyed before suburban sprawl drew residents from the city center. Local musicians perform and promote their music at the market’s five different stage areas. At other locations within the market, Des Moines’s not-for-profit organizations publicize their work and upcoming events, and the state college holds pep rallies, leads marching band concerts, and attracts new students. Special events, such as the 15th Anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Refugee Celebration for the area’s growing Hmong and Bosnian refugee communities, promote downtown Des Moines both as a community space and a lucrative shopping district for all Iowans.
The market’s ability to attract so many people downtown allows farmers–who comprise 80% of the 200 vendors–to get direct customer feedback on new value-added products, like salsas or cheeses. This helps them decide whether or not to continue making certain foods or to open a permanent shop downtown, which a number of vendors have already done.