Shawn O’Brate

RIVERTON – Over the years the Riverton Farmer’s Markets have seen the rise and fall of COVID affect their businesses and their local community, but now that restrictions have subsided and attention has been switched to other topics there has been a resurgence–specifically in Riverton City Park on Wednesday nights. 

There are two separate farmer’s markets in the town, one on Wednesday night and another on Saturday morning, but if you talk to the people that frequent both of them there are two completely unique crowds at the different markets.

“The crowds are two completely different crowds,” Jennifer O’Neill of Wormy Apple Sheep Company said about the two markets, “I don’t see many similar faces on a Saturday morning than I do on Wednesday evenings. But they’re both great crowds, both of them.”

Two major differences between the two markets is that Saturday’s market in the parking lot of City Hall is geared toward produce and local fruits and vegetables. Whereas Wednesday’s have all sorts of fun knick-knacks and events for all ages to enjoy.

Most recently the Wednesday market decided to have a chalk contest with the winners being awarded goodie bags full of things like boba drinks and colored pencils. Mercedes Rae, the Wednesday Farmers Market Manager said the chalk event is just one more thing that sets them apart from the other markets around Fremont County, not just the one on Saturday morning.

“We have decided to do more events like this [to] try and amp it up a little bit more and make it more family friendly,” Rae said after handing out the goodie bags, “Saturday is a little more straightforward with your produce and vendors, but we also have some produce around and we’ll have more produce coming up very soon.”

While produce dominates the Saturday market one of the best things about Wednesday’s markets is the different, one of a kind accouterments you might find next to the soap vendor or the vendors selling jarred pickles and such.

“This market is fantastic, it’s a good way for the community to come out and just be,” Jolene Velarde of Jolene Creates said, “Here we are…all these people out here enjoying each other and enjoying each other’s crafts. It’s fun, it’s nice. It’s a good way to spend a Wednesday evening.”

Velarde’s crafts include painted arts and crafts, something she takes pride in every weekend when she brings a new project or a different type of artwork. But she says she doesn’t just sit and sell her products every Wednesday.

“Everytime we’re at the market we definitely take a little walk around and see what we can do, what we can get,” Velarde said, “I’ve done this for three years and it’s definitely bigger from last year, last year was kind of…sad. Every week it gets a little bigger too.”

That seems to be the consensus between all market vendors too. The fact that COVID no longer ruins their chance at selling their products or even hinders their ability to get their products into the hands of possible consumers. 

“It’s grown a lot,” O’Neill said, “there’s been a lot more local participation in it post-COVID, a lot of people have taken up supporting local producers and buying local products.”

While some are seeing the fruits of their labor (no pun intended) being awarded and bought by the basket, some have not had as bad of a time over the past few years thanks to how COVID pushed grocery stores and other establishments to the brink.

“2020 was actually one of our best years,” Zach Carlson, a fruit and vegetable vendor said, “I think it was people wanting to shop local [and] the grocery stores always being out of everything. I think that’s what pushed a lot of people to start shopping local.”

Now it’s apparent that shopping local is here to stay, no matter when or where the market might be, but especially on Wednesday nights in City Park.

“Vendors are starting to have more product now as it’s starting to ripen and filter in,” Rae said about the market she manages, “we’re seeing a lot more foot traffic. We currently have over 700 visitors just today. Normally we sit between three and five hundred.”

Not only are produce products becoming more and more available due to the time of the year but the market is attracting more and more new salespeople, like Lester Horst who recently moved to Riverton and saw the Wednesday market as a good way to sell his leather products and tack gear.

When asked whether or not he was expecting the farmers market to be as busy as it was last Wednesday, Horst replied, “It’s bigger than my expectations”. 

So where does the farmers market go from here? There are multiple events to look forward to according to market manager Rae:

“This was the first time with the chalk [contest], it just kind of popped into our heads and it worked out really, really well. We want to make sure that kids have something to do and are entertained and encourage the parents and the kids to come down here so we’re going to do other events like a costume parade, a corn festival, a fall festival, some singers and all kinds of good stuff.”

If you haven’t traveled down to the market so far this season, try and find your way down to City Park tonight from 5–7 PM and see what makes the Wednesday market so special and more popular with every coming week. Not to mention you’ll be helping out your local community in more ways than one.