On Saturday mornings when the sun is shining, downtown Boise becomes a paradise for shoppers traveling on foot, with two farmer's markets to choose from setting up tables bursting with fresh produce—towering piles of blood-red radishes, forests of leafy greens, heaps of carrots still trailing soil—baked goods and locally made art. Wander from one market to another for long enough though, and it starts to become clear that artists congregate in one collection of booths while produce vendors gather in the other. Neither market is mutually exclusive, but their identities are clear—and clearly very different.
- Lex Nelson
What Boiseans new to the area or not thoroughly entrenched in the down-and-dirty of downtown politics may not know is that the two Boise farmers markets—the arts-heavy Capital City Public Market, currently centered on Idaho Street, and the farmer-focused Boise Farmers Market at the corner of 10th and Grove streets—used to be one. In October 2012, a faction of vendors from CCPM split from the original pack to start its own produce-centered market a few blocks away.
That spinoff became the Boise Farmers Market, which opened its gates to the public in April 2013 at its original location on the corner of 11th and Front streets. Now, five years later, tensions between vendors and organizers have died down, and representatives from both markets say they aren't just surviving, but thriving in their new niches.
"We think that it's really unique for Boise to have two very different but very successful markets two blocks away from one another," said Karen Ellis, the current BFM market manager and a past director of CCPM until she was fired in 2012 over allegations of poor business practices. "I don't know that they'd be as successful equally if they were not as close as they are. It's the perfect opportunity for people—it's like an outdoor mall, you have a lot of choices in not a lot of space."
But things weren't always so copacetic. During the months of slow separation, market personel on both sides of the divide gave various reasons for the split and its ensuing drama, ranging from the high ratio of artisans to farmers to the volume of out-of-town customers making it difficult for locals to shop for their weekly groceries at the original CCPM. Whatever the true trigger, the divide caused an identity schism, spurring both markets to define themselves and emphasize their differences.
"That first year was really hard, because especially among the vendors there were still a lot of hurt feelings in a sense, and [it was] kind of like a broken family, that's a lot of what it felt like," said Melissa Nodzu, who served as market director for CCPM from 2013-2016.
- Waterwheel Gardens
- Waterwheel Gardens has been a CCPM vendor since 2000.
Matt Williams, the CCPM board president whose family farm, Waterwheel Gardens, has been a vendor at CCPM since 2000, put it this way:
"For the first couple years, definitely there was still the feeling of 'they used to be part of us, and we used to be with them', and there's this rift. It was kind of like—I've never gone through a divorce, but I can imagine—just trying to redefine normal."
Five years later, it appears a balance has been struck. To continue Williams' metaphor, the days in court are over, and now the two parents share joint custody over Boise Saturday market-goers. But a weekend at mom's house isn't quite the same as a weekend at dad's.
"There's definitely a difference in the shoppers ... People that are going to Capital City, they're going to linger for a while and try to experience and see everything that's there. Whereas people who go to BFM, for the most part they're in and they're out. They're getting their food and they're leaving," said Nodzu.
- Lex Nelson
- Capital City Public Market welcomes an unlimited number of artists, along with farmers and prepared food vendors.
Ellis said that BFM is designed that way: to give local grocery shoppers easy access to produce, and local farmers a customer base.
"The main focus is agricultural products ... Our goal is we have to have more farmers total than all of the other categories combined." she said. "So right now we have right about 50 farmers and we have between 30 and 40 non-farmers."
CCPM, in contrast, doesn't stick to a strict ratio, focusing more on providing a well-rounded experience for customers.
"I think that when you're in the heart of downtown like we are, on Idaho Street, you're going to be a wonderful experience for tourists and visitors," said CCPM Executive Director Mona Warchol. "If you want to see what Idaho's about, you can see all the different things that we offer. So I definitely think we're high on the tourist attraction [list], if you will. If you're here visiting you aren't necessarily going to buy groceries on Saturday, but you could easily buy a sign from Rusty Junkers about Idaho."
- Lex Nelson
- Boise Farmers Market focuses produce.
CCPM thrives on a festival atmosphere, with buskers and performance artists lining the sidewalks between booths, putting ceramic artists and local bakeries cheek-by-jowl with violinists and mimes. According to Warchol, CCPM attracts 15,000-20,000 visitors every Saturday at the peak of its season, which runs April-December each year. BFM is smaller but growing: Ellis said the original estimate of 2,000-2,500 visitors per week has swelled to 6,000-10,000 over the last six seasons, and the market's indoor winter location on Front Street keeps them coming year-round.
There are also some structural differences between the two markets. Warchol emphasised that while BFM is a nonprofit, CCPM is a business league of 127 entrepreneurs.
"I would say we're truly a public market, which can encompass farms, artists, jewelers, specialty foods, you name it ... [Whereas at BFM] they pride themselves as a Boise farmers market," Warchol said.
Ellis echoed that sentiment.
- Lex Nelson
- Baked goods from Zeppole Baking Company, a Capital City Public Market vendor.
"We are the farmers market, and this is where people shop for fresh local food. The other market, the public market, offers a lot of things that we aren't able to offer, and that's great. It's the best thing for this city to have happened," she said.
Though the markets have respective identities, a few artisans have found homes at BFM, and a handful of farmers stuck with CCPM. One of them is Waterwheel Gardens, which sells fresh produce, as well as dried fruit and preserves that Williams said go over well with tourists. There are even a few vendors with booths at each venue. Both markets are exclusively local, and while some shoppers are loyalists to one or the other, siding with favorite vendors, many Boiseans stop by both groups of tents on a given Saturday.
"When we split the markets we actually doubled the number of people coming back downtown to shop because now they had the option: They could wander and look at everything and shop at their convenience [at CCPM] or if they wanted to just come in and shop they could do that and go [at BFM]. So I think it turned out better than anyone thought it might," said Ellis.
- Lex Nelson
- Radishes from True Roots Organics, a vendor at Boise Farmers Market.
When Boise Weekly posed the question of market preference on social media, Facebook user Paige McMahon spoke up for the neutral faction.
"I usually visit [BFM] first and then walk around [CCPM] afterwards," she wrote. "The farmer's market is where I'll pick up produce (and my favorite tamales!), but I enjoy the Capital City market because of the live music and bustling city energy! Lots of yummy street food there too!"
Though it's hard to forget what the markets once were, organizers on both sides said they're looking forward rather than backward, and are optimistic about the years ahead.
"It's kind of like what the City of Boise is going through right now," said Williams. "There's a lot of people who are like, 'Oh, we wish the city was still the small town that we remember growing up,' and it's like, 'Yes, I get the nostalgia feeling, but you can't go back, you know? As the city grows, you have to make the best out of the growth.'"