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The Evolution of a Major Downtown Des Moines Event

Downtown Farmers' Market History

September 16, 2022

In Iowa, support for buying local is evident, whether that’s through residents purchasing from growers selling sweet corn in the parking lot of a local business or visiting a newly opened shop offering one-of-a-kind services. And it’s easy to find local small businesses to spend with thanks to resources like Shop Iowa, Black Business Directory and Shop Where I Live. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to support local, though, is by attending one of the state’s largest summer events, the Downtown Farmers’ Market. It is here that there are more than 240 local vendors selling products every week.

The Downtown Farmers’ Market Gets Its Start

Before there was a Downtown Farmers’ Market, there was the City Market, which sold mostly wholesale product. From 1911 until 1948, the City Market was held at 2nd Avenue and Locust Street (where the Civic Court Apartments currently reside). By July 24, 1976, the Downtown Farmers’ Market, with support from the Downtown Promotion Committee of the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, officially opened with just 15 vendors at Eighth and Mulberry Streets. At this time, The Market welcomed a couple of hundred customers each week. Downtown Des Moines, Inc., and then Downtown Community Alliance, managed The Market from 1980 until 1982, prior to its move to a parking lot on Court Avenue near Fourth Street in 1983.

The Market’s Evolution Throughout the 90s, 2000s

It wasn’t until 1996 that The Market moved into the street, where it still resides today, extending from Fifth Avenue to Third Street and from Walnut Avenue to the railroad tracks and eventually stretching all the way to Second Avenue. As the decade wound down, The Market added entertainment acts to its offerings, giving patrons another reason to visit Historic Court District on Saturday mornings.

In 2000, Kelly Foss became The Market’s full-time director, adding 39 vendor stall spaces and bringing the total to 60 thanks to the addition of the block of Court Avenue from Second Avenue to First Street. Later, Second Avenue was added to The Market, along with another 36 stalls. In 2006, the Winter Farmers’ Market took place for one weekend in November and one in December. Now, The Winter Market continues to welcome shoppers looking to find holiday gifts, hear festive music and get into the spirit of the season and where, recently, special events like making your own ornament and watching the creation of a holiday ice sculpture come to life are swiftly becoming Winter Market traditions.

By 2010, the layout of the summer Market had to be changed to ease crowding of the popular event, bike valet was added and a giving program, Meals from the Market, was created to give donations to local food pantries. The Market continued to be ranked a top farmers’ market by various media, and in 2015 celebrated its 40th season with more than 300 vendors and 82 entertainers on the roster, welcoming 40,000 people on opening day and upwards of 20,000 patrons on any given Saturday.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the Drive-Through Bite-Size Market and reduced vendors; however, the participating vendors took advantage of the new opportunity to showcase products safely through a socially distanced farmers’ market option, keeping this beloved event going in the community during a challenging time.

The Market in 2022

This year, The Market was an Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Leader Award Winner, receiving the Leadership in Community Award. 2022 also marks the first year since the pandemic that The Market is back in full force, with 300+ vendors, 70+ entertainers and 20,000 weekly visitors. Not only that, but a new Minority-Owned Small Business Incubator Program was launched in May 2022 and will help improve growth, specifically for minority businesses, during the Market season.

The nationally ranked Downtown Farmers’ Market takes place from 7 a.m. until Noon on Saturdays in Historic Court District of Downtown Des Moines (DSM) through the end of September when hours change to 8 a.m. until Noon for the last month of the event. View the weekly Market vendor list here.

From May to October, experience local artists, live music and entertainment at the Downtown Farmers’ Market featuring nearly 300 family farmers, bakers, artists and crafters from around the state. It’s easy to visit with plentiful and affordable street and ramp parking options.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership calendar of events is a one-stop resource for activities taking place throughout the region. Find networking information for Greater Des Moines (DSM) businesses or events specific to Downtown DSM.

Megan Renkel

Megan Renkel was the Downtown Farmers' Market Manager at the Greater Des Moines Partnership.