Glistening red bell peppers. Heirloom carrots. Bushels of herbs. Organic eggs. And one common denominator: They’re all grown locally. Farmers’ Markets have become de rigueur these days, and Pamela Boyar and Annie Suite want to keep it that way. Since 2009, the two enterprising women have rallied farmers and artisans, and opened markets in Haleiwa, Pearlridge, Kakaako, Hawaii Kai and Kailua.
“We grew out of necessity,” says Suite, a theatre-instructor-turned farmers’ advocate. “We simply didn’t have enough space for all our vendors.”
Since opening the first FarmLovers Farmers’ Market in Haleiwa in 2009, Boyar and Suite have been on a mission to advocate healthy eating and sustainability, directly working with small farmers to encourage them to sell their products directly to the consumer.
“Most of these farmers only have 1- to -2-acre plots,” says Boyar, who started her first Farmers’ Market in Austin, Texas, before moving to Oahu in 2006. “The vendors aren’t competitive; they’re like family and that’s the atmosphere we want to create at our markets.”
After visiting the Haleiwa market, Angie Norville of North Carolina felt compelled to write Boyar and Suite. In an email message, she gushes about her experience. “We talked to many vendors and came back to Waikiki with star fruit, sea asparagus, salad dressing, papaya salad, scones, azuki bean balls, goat cheese tomato pie, coffee vanilla goat cheese cake and (a free) handy shopping bag,” she notes. “The very best part of the day was the love that we felt from the people!”
A regular vendor at the Haleiwa market since its inception, LuAnn Casey and husband Gary Gunder didn’t start off as farmers but they’ve grown their Tin Roof Ranch into a thriving business, thanks in part to the Farmers’ Market where they sell their organic eggs and garden variety of fruits.
“Annie and Pamela started stopping by and then Pamela invited me to participate in the Farmers’ Market,” Casey recalls. “I had a lot of fun and I liked it because it really pulls the community together.”
Farmers’ Markets have popped up across the U.S., exponentially increasing in numbers over the past two decades. The Agriculture Department reports that there were 7,864 U.S. markets in 2012, a 28 percent jump in just two years and more than four-and-a-half times the number of markets in 1994. Not surprising, the growth and popularity of markets correlates to several consumer food, health and shopping trends.
Although tacit, it has long been known that the outer circle of supermarkets showcases “healthy foods,” while the center of the store’s shelves are lined with processed foods, snacks, canned goods and sugary beverages. At Farmers’ Markets, there is no center store; the entire market is an outer — literally and figuratively — circle.
Since people have become more conscious about what they put in their bodies, Farmers’ Markets have played an integral role in the food supply, providing a healthy choice of fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, honey, jams and organic eggs. With few exceptions, most consumers say grocery shopping is an unpleasant life necessity, but a trip to the farmers’ market is a community experience and social event.
“There’s a certain cohesiveness that’s palpable,” Boyar says. “It’s a win-win for everyone — the farmers, the consumers and the community in general.”
Boyar’s and Suite’s business model is based holistically, organically growing both in sites and products while “incubating” new businesses. “The question is really how do we survive on what’s grown here,” Suite says. “We can talk about food sustainability but we need the farmers and ranchers, and we need the community to support them.”
A number of bills that gained legislative approval in the past years have helped. For example, Senate Bill 327 amends the Hawaii State Planning Act objectives and policies for the economy to support the purchase and consumption of locally grown food and food products. Another bill, SB593 assists Hawaii’s Livestock Industry by providing $1.5 million in feed subsidies to qualified beef cattle, dairy, hog, poultry, goat, sheep, fish and crustacean farms.
“We’re creating a hub for the community,” says Boyar, who was recognized in 2005 as the Farmers’ Markets Manager of the Year by the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association. “Our markets are babies and they’re still in their growing stage.”
Farmlovers Farmers’ Markets:
Kakaako Sunset: Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. at Ward Village (corner of Ward Avenue and Ala Moana Boulevard)
Kakaako: Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon at Ward Warehouse (corner of Ward Avenue and Ala Moana Boulevard)
Pearlridge: Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon at Pearlridge Center Uptown
Haleiwa: Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. at Waimea Valley
Kailua: Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Kailua Elementary School