College students are being encouraged to attend farmer’s markets in hopes that the younger generation will see the importance of supporting their community and local businesses.
Mark Hernandez, director and manager of the Lafayette Farmer’s and Artisans Market (LFAM), said that in order to bring in a younger audience, the market is thinking of extending the market’s schedule. Currently under construction, the Horse Farm, now referred to as “Moncus Park,” may also attract a larger audience once it’s expanded.
Mark and his wife, Mary, were attending a grower’s conference in Arkansas when they got the news of the Save the Horse Farm campaign back in late 2005.
The Horse Farm of Lafayette had been owned by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and was in the process of being set aside for expansion. Like many in the community, Mark and his wife saw greater potential for the then 100-acre piece.
Mark said he thought with the agricultural history and value of the property, they could propose a farmer’s market.
After taking a leap of faith and calling the city, as well as meeting with then-City-Parish President, Joey Durel, Mark said that although it was out of his comfort zone at the time, taking a chance on the opportunity was worth it.
Now, close to its six year anniversary in June, Mark has been managing and directing LFAM for about three years, “rain or shine.” After being a vendor himself previously, however, Hernandez has hardly lost sight of one of the market’s founding qualities: the vendors themselves and the importance of supporting local business.
“Customers come maybe for the first time, and they might walk around,” Hernandez said, “and maybe it doesn’t sink in totally what their support can do for not just the individual, but the community.”
Primarily, supporting local businesses and vendors proposes itself as a financial issue.
According to the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), studies show that support for local business may often benefit more than just the vendors, with an average of 48 percent of profits of local businesses recirculating.
Conditions like weather or personal circumstance can affect vendors and their market attendance, which in turn, affects sales. Even though the market is “rain or shine,” not all vendors can be spoken for, depending on product.
For vendors like Lauren Earley and Alexis Badon of Magnolia Moon Collective, who rely on income for not just themselves but their children, getting “rained out” can be more than a day out of business.
“A lot of the vendors, that’s the only job they do, and you kind of accept that you’re not going to make a lot of money,” Badon said. “It’s not going to be consistent. We have amazing weeks where we didn’t think we’d make that much, and we have other weeks…you really have to hustle.”
Financially, vendors and customers of the market are certainly impacted. Yet, there still seems to be controversy over promoting local businesses, and people actually supporting them, especially the younger generation.
“I think it’s important for the future of the market that young people understand what we’re about, and support it for the success of the future markets,” Hernandez said.
Maggie Parks, a recent UL Lafayette graduate, said she has attended the market for two years now.
An important aspect of the market for Parks is the personable vendors, and how each vendor is unique.
According to Hernandez, a study was conducted by UL Lafayette to find the average age range of the market. With the average age range being 50-60 years old, Hernandez said he’d be interested in finding out what would attract younger adults.
Although Hernandez said he hopes that construction may attract the college-age audience, Parks said that it may actually deter, instead.
“People who experienced the ‘Horse farm’ before might have negative feelings about all the change that’s happening,” Parks said. “It’s unfortunate that the construction and market are so close together.”
Owner of Fathers Espresso and LFAM vendor Doug Leblanc said he thinks that it might be lack of convenience for the younger audience to attend the market frequently. Leblanc also said that it’s important to be educated on what’s available.
“A lot of these young people come through there and think, wow, I didn’t know this existed,” Leblanc said.
Although the market lacks support from younger audiences, there may be qualities that can benefit them, especially students. Just as it serves as an intentional, community and family-oriented space for its a rave customers, the market can also provide an opportunity for connection among college students.
“As big and noisy as Lafayette can feel sometimes, it feels smaller and more quaint when you attend the market,” Parks said. “Our big culture comes alive there. Young people who may be interested in this [local business] can learn a lot from the vendors.”