Marketing in Omaha: May 3, 2008

The Omaha Farmer's Market opened this past Saturday, May 3. Like the Ann Arbor Market, it's been around about 100 years. This Omaha market (in the past couple of years 2 more have opened in the city) is only on Saturdays and only open until October. So the pale and sun-bedazzled people who were there on opening day looked pretty darn happy to be marketing. 

The market takes place downtown at 11th and Jackson, in an area left over from yesteryear and reminiscent of our Kerrytown. It's in the oldest part of town called, aptly, Old Market. The streets are brick and the old brick buildings have huge wooden overhangs covering the sidewalks and festooned with vines.  This part of town is thick with shops and restaurants and overflowing with flower boxes in the summertime; it's one of the nicest downtown areas I've seen. You feel like Jesse James might pass you on the street. Or a rampaging steer. 

The Omaha market has only about 65 vendors, but they sell everything from root beer to all natural dog bones to artisanal cheese to PIES. And of course, lovely produce. They have some crafty things mixed in and also some commercial things, like Great Harvest Bread. Overall a very nice market, even if I think selling Great Harvest there doesn't make sense.

Probably the most interesting thing was seeing not only asparagus and rhubarb, but other unexpected produce like tomatoes, carrots and turnips. That vendor with the organic carrots and turnips, Shadowbrook Farm, had a crowd of about 20 people lined up at 7:45, waiting for the opening bell to ring at 8:00am so that they could make their purchases.  Apparently the tomatoes come from heated greenhouses somewhere in the area. 

I had a really nice chat with Seth Quiring who owns Le Quartier Baking Company with his brother the baker. Currently located in Lincoln, NE this bakery got its start when the baking brother spent 3 years learning the trade (slaving away for a French baker) in Sceaux, France (I learned also, that Sceaux is pronounced "so"). They had gorgeous breads.  If I lived in Lincoln, I would be there every other day. 

There were a couple of vendors selling pies, but by far the best looking ones were at Kelly's Berry Best Pies. Just to kick it up a notch, she was offering samples of her crisp flaky crust to passersby. The first one is free..... She had baked about 50 pies that morning together with her daughter. She only had a few left and my wallet was unfortunately bare. Next time I'm getting that strawberry-rhubarb.

Another highlight was getting to talk with artist/designer Dean Vavak and her friend Pat. They filled me in on some market facts, said there would be a lot more produce vendors soon. Cold weather had delayed many of them from this first week.  I especially liked Pat's original artwork of vegetables and Old Market landscapes. I bought some of her vegetable cards before the $$ ran out. 

My other purchase was of some Lancaster Duet - an artisanal cheese made by the wifely part of a husband and wife farming and cheesemaking team. I think they were also the Shadowbrook Farm couple - with the nice carrots and turnips. The husband had built the goats' milking parlor.  The cheese I bought, a goat and cow's milk cheese, was who sold to me by a young woman whose  family owns cows that gave the milk that went into the cheese, from Branched Oak Farm.  She said the Lancaster Duet had been aged for a year and it might be her favorite.  It  reminded me of raclette - a little sweet, creamy and nutty, somehow harkening to parmesan. Really yummy.

It's very fun to get to see another market from a midwestern town, see people standing in line for beautiful organic vegetables, chatting with friends they haven't seen in a while, couples going over their shopping lists aloud together, moms handing treats to kids in their strollers, a man with an armful of flowers. To me, this is the beginning of the year. 

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