story by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula, special to The City Wire
The Bentonville Farmers Market was a good place to be on a sunny Saturday (August 24), with a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, crafts and live entertainment on the Square.
This is the 37th year for the Bentonville Farmers Market, although it has only been organized since Downtown Bentonville Inc.(DBI) took over the market in 2008, said Nicki Dallison, outdoor market manager and a staff member with DBI.
Dallison has seen an "exponential" growth trend in farmers market sales. Sales increased 79 percent between 2011 and 2012.
"Last year we did half a million dollars in sales. In 2011 we did about $280,000 in sales," she said.
The Square is filled to capacity with more than 70 vendors.
"Unfortunately we have a waiting list" for future vendors, Dallison said. "It shows that our market is strong, but I wish I could fit everyone in.”
Dallison said the increase in business is because of increased awareness among Northwest Arkansans about where their food comes from.
"People are concerned about what they're eating," she said. "At the farmers market you get to talk to the farmer who grew the vegetable you're going to eat."
The local food interest is a regional thing.
"Fayetteville and Bentonville work together to open up local food ways," Dallison said. "We work as a region. A lot of our farmers go to more than one market in Northwest Arkansas."
There's more to the farmers market than food, however. It's also about supporting local crafts makers.
"You're supporting family businesses, and that's important to people now," Dallison said.
Birdworks, owned by Sharon and Dan Sherman of Bella Vista, is a crafts business that makes birdhouses, crosses and other woodworks out of the ruins of the 2011 Joplin tornado.
"We give back to the community by giving to the Salvation Army, which we saw doing a lot of good things during the disaster," Sharon said.
She said her husband, who was already an accomplished woodworker, got the idea for the business when he was helping to clean up after the tornado. Many of the items sold by Birdworks are made out of remnants of Victorian-style houses, including both the wood and decorative hardware. One birdhouse incorporated the hands of a clock. The Sherman's have given away 300 wooden crosses to survivors of the Joplin tornado.
"The Joplin Hope Cross is a symbol of giving, love and respect for what people went through," Sharon said.
Lizzy Williams, the jewelry artist behind Bright Owl Designs in Pea Ridge, has been a vendor at the market for four years. She taught herself how to make jewelry for her daughter.
"It's a hobby gone wild," she said. "People would ask where my daughter got the jewelry she was wearing, and so it got started that way."
The Bentonville Farmers Market will be open on Saturdays until Oct. 26.