Celebrating Kentucky’s Farmer’s Markets


Simpsonville KY:  Under the Wiche Pavillion, business is brisk at the Simpsonville Farmers’ Market, even at 11:00 AM. Local musicians serenade the crowd; Black Paw Farms has a large display of vegetables, especially interesting varieties of tomatoes. The 25 vendors provide a generous selection of meat, baked goods, crafts, ice cream, and even vinyl records for the 700 customers who visit the market on Saturday and then again on Wednesday night.  

This scene is being replicated every week throughout the state, from large markets with juried vendor selection to a few tents around the courthouse. But all have the same goal - building customer relationships and providing locally sourced products. 

The week of August 6-12, Kentucky and the entire nation are celebrating these markets, which reflect the fabric of local communities. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said in recognition of the Farmers’ Market Week. “Farmers’ markets provide the freshest and healthiest foods direct from Kentucky’s farms, and Farmers’ markets remain a vital resource to provide a direct pathway for farm fresh foods for consumers.” Not only do farmers’ markets provide a variety of products for customers, but they also grow the economies of local communities. 

More than 2400 vendors are at 170 Kentucky Farmers’ Markets, providing an economic boost to 115 counties. Many communities plan “days” around their farmers market, which bring additional customers to the venues, which are often in the downtown business district.  

 A study by the University of California Davis discovered, “for every dollar of sales, direct marketers - Kentucky farm families generate twice as much economic activity within the region.” Kentucky’s farmers’ markets reported more than $15 million in sales in 2022.

The Simpsonville Farmers’ Market provides just such a business opportunity for sisters Keren Mendez Henestrosa and Gethsy Mendez Phillips.  The new vendors sell 130 sweet empanadas, each week at their Blooming Flour Bakery.  The sisters love making desserts that reflect their Mexican heritage. Without the security of the customer base of the Farmer’s Market, the sisters would not have taken the step to open their business. 

Gethsy laughed when she noted that Keren is the baker and shy - she, however is a people person. They make a great team and enjoy meeting people, and hope to expand their business with more selections than the four fresh fruit flavors of empanadas.

Danielle Keating is the manager of the Simpsonville Farmers’ Market, completing her second year as manager being a vendor in the previous three. Her work in the garment district of New York City made her well-versed in marketing. Her goal as manager is to make sure there is a variety of vendors who attract a diverse crowd of customers and to make sure the community is involved in market events. In other words, the vendors have customers, and the customers have vendors. 

During the off-season, she spends time “sourcing” new vendors. “We didn’t have baked goods, and I found bakers; we didn’t have dairy, I found dairy.” Currently, there are three bakers, each with different products and not in competition with each other. New vendors have the chance to come once a month - to sort of “get their feet wet” to see if they can commit to an entire season of the twice-weekly market days. 

“Coming once a month has opened the doors for people who have had doors closed to them,” Keating continued. The vendor’s contract allows for only one vacation week - to ensure product consistency; vendors can’t just come when they want to; they have to commit to the weekly market days. 

She acknowledged her Black Paws Farms was the only vegetable vendor; and grew pensive. “Yes, we lost three vegetable vendors mid-season” Sadly, she added some small farmers have not been able to make it financially with Farmers’ Market sales and have had to go to off-farm jobs.

Her goal is to have no more than 20% non-farm vendors. When asked about the vinyl record booth, she laughed. “He has a following, and people come to him and then visit other booths.”

Keating noted that vendors must innovate and “work the crowd” from their booth. They must stand up, be ready to talk and interact with customers, answer questions, and have samples. They have to push their products; they create their customers. Gone are the days of vendors just sitting at their booths and waiting for customers to come to them. 

She initiated the “On the Green” program held the first Saturday of the month. The event allows community organizations to participate in the market and set up educational booths. It brings people to the organizations and the vendors - a win-win situation. She manages the very attractive and informative Simpsonville Farmers’ Market Facebook page. Each week the page promotes a vendor and upcoming events. Under her management, market attendance has increased from 200 to 700, and at “On the Green,” over 1000. 

Her goal is to have 1200 regular customers and 35 booths. Which means more work this off-season.  

“But when you’re passionate about something, it’s really easy.”, she concluded. 

By Toni Riley

Field Reporter

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