The Cooley family aims to bring naturally grown fruits and vegetables to members of the community in Lafayette, Ind. The family has a farm stand, participates in a farmers market and even hosts an online market during the winter for people to order food.
The Cooley family aims to bring naturally grown fruits and vegetables to members of the community in Lafayette, Ind. The family has a farm stand, participates in a farmers market and even hosts an online market during the winter for people to order food.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Farmers markets have brought homegrown food to Indiana tables for hundreds of years, and this year is no exception.

Spring vegetables and foods, such as asparagus and mushrooms, are being harvested and sold at markets such as the Sagamore West Farmers Market in West Lafayette.

“Each of the farmers markets in Lafayette are a little different, but you will find a mix of farmers who sell fruits, veggies and flowers direct to consumers,” said Erin Nelson, director of chamber and quality of life for Greater Lafayette Commerce.

“We do have prepared foods, as well. We have vendors who either grow all the food they prepare themselves or they purchase it from another farmer who sells in the market, making sure it’s all local. You can pick up a prepared lunch or pick up groceries for the rest of the week.”

Nelson described farmers markets as an economic tool to support farmers and those who need fruits, vegetables and meats. She said that it is important to preserve and promote the local community and to know where your food comes from.

“What it really comes down to its providing locally raised food direct to consumers,” she said. “It’s supporting a really strong local economy and making sure our growers can have a sustained life here as farmers.”

The Cooley family has been participating in the Sagamore West Market for nine years.

“Last week, we had asparagus, spinach, rhubarb and tomato plants,” said Kevin Cooley, grower in Lafayette. “As we get into the season, we grow a large variety of food. We do this farmers market, a Community Supported Agriculture program, we have a farm stand on our farm and in the winter we do online sales because we grow in high tunnels.”

Cooley works with his wife, Tracey, to run the business. Their daughter, Lacie, helps out whenever she can. Recently, she rang the bell signaling the open of the market.

“Selling at a farmers market is fun,” Kevin Cooley said. “But it takes a lot more time than people would ever imagine. You’ve got to get it harvested the day before, get it all packaged up and ready to go. Then you have to haul all the stuff, set up and you never know what the weather is going to do.”

Cooley said that sometimes they have to tear down just an hour after setting up, depending on weather conditions. He also noted that it is important to have a Plan B for all the produce that is picked, in case it doesn’t sell.

Unexpected weather and the challenges that come with working at a farmers market are worth it to Cooley and his family, who enjoy their job.

“My favorite part is our customers,” he said. “Seeing people come back week to week, raving about what they got last week, telling you how much they enjoy it.”

Cooley offered this advice to market shoppers: “Get to know the growers and farmers. Ask questions. Ask how they grow things, if that’s important to you. Ask what’s coming up. Just because you don’t see something on the table today doesn’t mean we’re not going to have it.”

“A lot of people forget that it is not a grocery store. We’re not going to have everything all year long,” he said. “We don’t have green beans yet, but we’ll have them in June. We don’t have some things just because of the weather this year.”

Nelson also shared her expertise on making the most out of the shopping experience.

“There’s always a lot to see, no matter what farmers market you go to,” she said.

“Talk to the farmers and growers and explore some new things. There are a lot of great items we can grow because we have a great climate in Indiana.

“There may be some fruits and veggies that you aren’t sure what they are. Ask them about it, how to prepare it, and open your dinner table and taste buds to new and exciting tastes.”

She mentioned that if you are hoping to find a pineapple or bananas at an Indiana farmers market, you are out of luck. But shopping at markets definitely has its good side.

“It is really important to be able to support your local businesses,” Nelson said.

“Farmers are business owners. They need to be sustainable in the community. It is a little different when you think of them being business owners and not just farmers.”

For a directory of Indiana farmers markets, visit http://www.in.gov/apps/ISDA_FarmersMarket.