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Zvile Farmers market FIn addition to fostering a sense of community and providing a source for healthy food options, farmers markets across the country have become popular test markets for start-up businesses, and the Zionsville Farmers Market is no exception. Since its inception in 1997, new and successful businesses have been spawned and nurtured there. But what makes many of these stories unique is the way current business owners reach out to new entrepreneurs, encouraging and supporting them in their quest to turn a hobby into a successful enterprise.

In the mid 1990s, when I baked pastries for the Butler’s Pantry tea room (an extension of the current Butler’s Pantry on Main Street), store owner, Sandy Rogers, unselfishly allowed me to use her facility to run a small catering business, on the side. Thinking back, I realize that chances were pretty slim I’d ever have ventured down that road without Sandy’s unfettered generosity. This same kindness and willingness to support others is still evident among local proprietors who share Sandy’s altruistic values.

Kelly Maucere, baker and proprietor of My Sugar Pie, has had a stall at the Zionsville Farmers Market since 2008 where she learned how to promote certain pies throughout the summer – fresh strawberry and rhubarb at the beginning of the season, peach towards the end and, when the weather is cool enough, she offers pecan and pumpkin pies.

Just about the time she was starting her business, Kelly and her husband had dinner at the Cobblestone Grill. “We were talking to another couple who were sitting close to us and didn’t realize they were the owners of the business,” she said, with a chuckle. “My husband piped up, ‘Well, Kelly is starting her own business baking pies, and she needs a commercial kitchen.’” And so began a relationship that continues today. “It was an easy way to start slowly with the business and see if it was going to take off before I got into a brick and mortar with all that overhead,” she recalled.

This month Kelly celebrates the second anniversary of having her own shop, but the Cobblestone Grill continues to offer patrons a taste of her highly acclaimed pies. “I’d like to stay loyal to the restaurant that gave me my start,” Kelly said.

As for the Zionsville Farmers Market, Kelly doesn’t ever want to leave it. “We just enjoy having a presence there. It’s really been a success for us,” she said.

Inga Smith, proprietor of Inga’s Popcorn, also reaped the benefits of test-marketing her gourmet snack at the farmers market. When life threw the mother of three a couple of unexpected curve balls, Inga knew she had to create a way to generate income for her family, so armed with an old home recipe, she jumped right in and started making caramel corn. Soon after, she added Cheddar to her repertoire, and with a balance of sweet and savory, she hit the farmers market. “I had popped probably $500 worth of popcorn to sell at that first farmers market and not one person came up to buy popcorn until 10 o’clock,” Inga recalls (the farmers market is only open between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) But in the last hour, “We sold and sold and sold and sold. Now I know people don’t like popcorn for breakfast! It’s more of an afternoon thing,” she said.

That summer, Inga sold so much popcorn that she decided she’d try to launch her product in the retail market, so that meant using a licensed kitchen – and she found one at Eagle Creek Coffee Company. At the farmers market, earlier in the year, Inga had befriended Ken Julian who owned the coffee shop at the time, and he readily agreed to let her use his facility after business hours.

Not only did Inga sell her popcorn at the farmers market, she also bought it there. On a whim, she purchased some popping corn from a Brownsburg farmer who ran his own stall. She took it home, tried it and was hooked. “There was just a huge difference in the quality of the popcorn,” she said. Interestingly, Inga’s Popcorn became popular so quickly that she purchased all the corn the farmer could harvest and had to find another source!

Today, Inga Smith has her own storefront and is ‘paying it forward.’ She offered her kitchen and retail space to Jon and Kathy Weed after tasting a sample of their homemade peanut butter and encouraging them to test it at the farmers market. In a matter of weeks, B. Happy Peanut Butter was born. “We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t have Inga and a local kitchen to use,” Jon said, in a recent interview. “Having her support, right off the bat, was a huge benefit.”

This is the Weed family’s first year at the farmers market, where their peanut butter has debuted to raving reviews. “It’s such a great way to test the market for something, see if it’s priced right, see if there’s interest. We love it because we get to interact with people and get that instant feedback,” Jon explained.

Others, including Darrin Marion, owner of Darrin’s Coffee Co., started out at the farmers market too. In fact, Darrin tested in three separate markets and discovered Zionsville to be the most favorable. He recently opened up shop next to Plum’s Upper Room on Main Street where he blends and roasts his beans to create signature flavors. And again, owners of established businesses have extended a welcoming hand; Plum’s and Noah Grant’s both serve up Darrin’s fabulous coffee.

Le Dolce Vita owner Kelly Evans, who recently moved to the former site of the Eagle Creek Coffee Co., is also active in helping the entrepreneur spirit in the Village. “I currently rent my kitchen to Amy Pictor who sells quiche at the Farmers Market. We will also be selling and using in our new store, B. Happy Peanut Butters.”

So, as you can see, the Zionsville Farmers Market is a fabulous testing ground for many new ventures, and it’s backed up by a great community of business owners who understand the value in supporting one another and welcoming new faces.

The Zionsville Farmers Market, at the corner of Main Street and Hawthorne, runs every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. through Sept. 28. For more information and a list of vendors, visit http://zionsvillefarmersmarket.org

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