Successful, independently owned local businesses in the Treasure Valley have had a rough road. As our population continues to grow, many small businesses fall prey to corporate buy-out or big box bargain shut-out. However, some grow and flourish and become such landmarks, it's hard to imagine our community without them. One such small business-that really isn't so small anymore-is The Capital City Farmer's Market, open each Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. from April to October and then again as the Holiday Market on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (until around December 18).
In 1994, Karen Ellis was hired as the Market manager for Capital City Growers, Inc., a state non-profit organization. The City Market's owner, J.R. Simplot, wanted this market to be a copy, albeit a smaller one, of Seattle's Pike's Place Market. After two years-and changes on the wind for that area of downtown-Simplot decided to discontinue funding for the project.
Knowing that a farmer's market in Boise had huge potential, the vendors themselves hired Ellis. The producer-only market managed to stay in business and after moving to a space on 8th Street between Bannock and Main, has grown bigger and bigger each year. Policies set in place by the Market's overseeing board ensure, in part, the venture's continued success.
One of the Market's more important policies is that agricultural growers must make up 75 percent of vendors each Saturday. As more and more produce is being imported to the United States out of Japan and China, smaller growers are becoming nearly obsolete. At the Market, however, all smaller, local agricultural growers have a place to sell their produce for a large portion of the year. Small farmers are never refused space at the Market.
Another policy is that the seller must produce everything. Re-sale is not allowed. This means that growers cannot purchase produce and then sell it at a booth as their own. It does not mean that someone selling homemade mustard or hot sauce or marinade or jam has to produce the bottles they come in or the paper their labels are printed on. It does mean, however, that the sauces and all of the other specialty food products have to be produced locally by the seller. With all of the edible items being produced locally, there is always an issue of food safety. Another very important policy is that all foodstuffs sold at the market have to be FDA approved. Often this approval ends up costing the seller a great deal and he or she has to pass the added cost on to the buyer. One example of this added cost, Ellis explained, is the Health Department wanted to charge specialty food vendors (sellers of mustards, sauces, honey, jams, etc.) a $65 permit fee for every three Saturdays at the Market. Ellis learned that Albertsons had to pay the same amount to sell specialty, processed food in its stores, however, the Albertsons corporation only had to pay $65 per year. Not per store, but a one-time, once-a-year $65 fee. The unfairness of the situation angered Ellis to the point that she lobbied the Health Department, a government organization she'd previously had a great working relationship with. Until the Health Department revisits this policy, Ellis as Market manager will now also pay one $65 fee for the entire market. Still, this policy is for the protection of buyer and seller alike.
For over a decade, the Capital City Market has been a place where local farmers, growers, artisans, artists and specialty food producers can come together and provide high-end, quality products for the community. It has served as an incubator for fledgling mom-and-pop businesses to get their start. Big box stores may have lower prices, but their products will never have the same added value of buying from our own friends and neighbors.