Every year from spring to fall, the public parking lot on the east side of the 1100 block of Vermont becomes a bustling site of local commerce. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, but especially on Saturday morning, the diversity of people gathered at the site is incredible. Young and old people from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic groups come to the market to sell or buy locally produced goods.
The market is a way for producers to make some money from their labors. It's a weekly ritual for many shoppers who may not raise produce of their own but love to come buy fresh items and talk to friends. On Saturday, they come, often with their morning cup of coffee in hand, and leave with armloads of fresh flowers or maybe a plant to add to their own garden. As the season progresses they take home spring lettuce and onions, then ripe tomatoes and watermelons, then winter squash and fall apples. It's sad to see the market close in the fall and exciting to welcome its opening each spring.
It certainly is a Lawrence feature worth preserving, and market advocates are seeking ways to improve their facilities. They would like to move the market to a larger city-owned parking lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire and they want canopies for 32 stalls to make the market more weather-proof. The wish list they shared with Douglas County commissioners this week also included a permanent restroom facility and more electrical hook-ups for vendors. They went to county commissioners, as they have gone to city commissioners, in search of funding for their plans, which they estimate would cost $350,000.
Although everyone supports the market and thinks it's a wonderful thing, it would be difficult for local governments to find funding to support its expansion plans. Downtown Lawrence benefits from the added traffic the market brings to the area, but that group also operates on a tight budget that may not allow for funding the market's expansion.
Market advocates no doubt are disappointed by the lack of financial backing, but they shouldn't be. Sometimes when you mess too much with a good thing, it becomes not such a good thing. The market certainly doesn't have trouble attracting vendors and shoppers. They must like the atmosphere and the opportunity to sell their wares. A more formal facility might have some advantages, but it also might affect some of what people currently find so attractive about the market.
There's been a lot of discussion in Lawrence in recent months about community-building and ways to capitalize on efforts that unite rather than divide the community. Whether it moves to a new home or stays where it is, the farmers market is almost certain to remain a bright spot in the Lawrence community.