18 Questions with Kaitlyn Breedlove: How Farmers Markets Can Nourish Communities

by Sierra Winters

Have you ever visited a farmers’ market and wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work required to pull the event off, week after week? Kaitlyn Breedlove has the answers. As the Market Manager for the Durham Farmers’ Market in North Carolina, she is deeply enmeshed in both the theoretical and practical aspects of sustainable food systems and community engagement. Already working with an admirable, robust, and well-respected market, she dreams of making it even better. Join us for this month’s 18 Questions as we learn more!

  1. Explain how you first became involved with the Durham Farmers’ Market. 

I came to love Durham Farmers’ Market (DFM) as a customer around a decade ago, when I first moved to Durham. I’ve always loved farmers’ markets, but I felt a special affection for the setting and community of DFM. I loved each opportunity to walk around and see all the variety–the seasonal vegetables, the plants, the bread. At that point, however, I didn’t know much about DFM’s local vision, and I couldn’t have imagined working there one day. 

That began to change when my husband and I spent five years in Texas while he got his doctorate. Opportunities to work at a teaching farm, and then at the local farmers’ market as an assistant, opened doors that helped bring us back to Durham (which was always our hope) as well as to DFM, which has been a real joy for me. 

  1. What work do you do as the Market Manager throughout the week (i.e., on non-market days)? 

As much as I can! There are always emails and regular tasks (financials, board meetings, site maps, social media and newsletters, merch orders, etc.) necessary for the weekly markets. Any given week, various specific questions or concerns will arise during our markets. In addition — and this is certainly my favorite week-time work — we spend a lot of time on particular projects, whether planning special and seasonal events, or looking for additional funding, grants, and collaborations to expand DFM’s capacity to serve our farmers and our city as much as possible. I have a lot of help in this last task, especially from our assistant manager, who also schedules musicians, operates social media and communications, and plans the kids’ programming. 

  1. What roles do you play on market days, which can get quite busy? 

Market days typically start with getting everything set up, from tents and tables to setting up the street barricades. During market hours, I check in with our vendors, answer questions at our information booth, distribute tokens for our Double Bucks program, and respond to any customer or vendor needs. As a market manager, you have to be prepared to switch tasks easily and think of solutions quickly – so many unexpected things happen each week, so you have to be ready for anything!

  1. Name one major similarity and one significant difference between the Durham Farmers Market and the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, where you previously worked.

Probably the most significant difference is the organizational structure – DFM is a farmer-run market, meaning that the farmers and vendors who sell at the market are also responsible for making and applying market rules, reviewing new vendor applications, and deciding which grants and partnerships to pursue. Waco Downtown Farmers Market has a community-run board, so the people making the rules and decisions are not directly involved with the market. With that type of market, you get different perspectives about how the market works within the community. Both markets are similar in their commitment to providing fresh, locally-grown foods to their communities. 

  1. How do you help foster vendor commitment, making the market somewhere producers want to come back and sell, year after year? 

One of my driving commitments in this job is to help DFM serve our community. But it’s important to remember that it can only continue to do so when it’s also a profitable and excellent home for our vendors, who are the essential component of that mission. Happily, our vendors share an incredibly strong community, much of it shaped by their trust that the staff and the board have their best interests in mind with every decision. Our vendors are so much more than the products that they sell week after week. One of my favorite parts of Saturday and Wednesday markets is the opportunity to check in with these folks — to see pictures, hear about (very rare) vacations, and ensure that DFM is working for them. 

  1. What kind of diversity does the market attract in terms of patrons and vendors?

There’s so much work to be done on this front. Durham is a very diverse city, but that diversity is not currently reflected in either the patrons or the vendors. In 2021, our market partnered with a local organization to begin to address this issue; the Durham Farmers Market committed to accepting at least two new BIPOC farmers each year for the next five years. In 2022 and 2023, the new vendors had their start-up fees (tents, tables, application fees, liability insurance, etc.) and their stall fees paid for by the partner organization. 

While the funding for that program has now ended, the DFM is committed to continuing the program; we have applied for multiple grants that would allow us to continue paying those start-up fees and stall fees. Unfortunately, farmers of color have not been given the same opportunities and advantages as white farmers. While the DFM’s acceptance of two new BIPOC vendors each year is a step in the right direction, it’s just a starting point towards addressing the history and injustice that farmers of color have faced and still face now. 

As for our patrons, we hope our market is where everyone in our community feels welcome. But again, that will only happen with our membership’s diversification. 

  1. What about diversity in products? There seem to be many unique value-added and prepared foods besides produce and crafts! 

We definitely have a diversity of products! There’s everything from ostrich to tempeh, kimchi, vegan pastries, locally milled grains, honey, pottery, handcrafted chocolate, teas, Colombian dishes, Senegalese dishes, kombucha, cheese, and, of course, vegetables of all shapes and sizes and an incredible assortment of meats – pretty much anything you could want from a farmers market, you can get at the DFM. And it’s all grown or crafted within 70 miles of the market!

  1. Please explain the “Double Bucks” program.

Double Bucks is a nutrition incentive program that increases accessibility to fresh food by doubling the buying power of SNAP recipients. We can also match WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers and provide cash matches for WIC recipients and public housing residents. 

Our program, which is currently funded through Duke Health and Durham County, is unique in that the Double Bucks can be used for anything SNAP-eligible at the market. In contrast, for many similar programs around the country, Double Bucks can only be used for fruits and vegetables. Double Bucks can and are used at DFM for fruits and veggies, which is essential, but we’re proud that our customers can also use the program for a wide variety of items, like meats, grains, fermented vegetables, and honey, that are staples in many houses. 

  1. What are community members’ donations to the DFM used for? 

Many people may not know that vendor stall fees are the main source of income that keeps the market operational. We want to keep these fees low for our vendors, which means that we depend on grants and donations for almost all of the programs that help make DFM what it is, from Double Bucks to Sprouts Club (our kids’ programming) and even for purchases of equipment necessary for basic market operations. Challenges are always present when you depend on community support, but that dependence also helps the market maintain essential connections between our farmers and their communities. We are always grateful to our donors and funders and thrilled by each new chance for collaboration. 

  1. Where do grants typically come from?

We’ve gotten grants from local organizations that want to help improve our community’s health, as well as larger corporations that focus on community collaboration and development. We recently applied for a large federal grant that would allow us to focus on nutrition education and accessibility, so we’re anxiously waiting to hear about that! 

  1. Does the DFM rely on volunteers?

Absolutely. Volunteers are essential to our market, especially on event days when so many activities are happening simultaneously. 

  1. Describe an especially rewarding or memorable experience you have had in working for the DFM. 

Two experiences stand out more than all the others: hearing how the Double Bucks program has helped someone in the community find stability and opportunity in food access and how our vendors are thriving. A close third might be special Saturday events like Tomato Day

  1. The DFM is in the heart of downtown. How does it play off other events, like the Food Truck Rodeo, that are often happening simultaneously? 

It’s actually really great having so many events happening every weekend in our city. People who might not otherwise visit the market will sometimes happen upon it just because they are attending another event in the area. We reach more people in our community and different demographics than we might otherwise reach if we were not in the middle of it all. 

  1. Have you ever had cooking demonstrations at the market?

We have had some fantastic cooking demonstrations done by some amazing cooks and chefs in our area. It is definitely something that we are hoping to do a lot more of in the future. Our dream is to build a mobile cooking demonstration station to educate more about seasonal eating, how to prepare the fruits and vegetables available at the market, basic kitchen skills, and more. Accessibility is at the heart of our mission, including providing customers with the know-how and confidence to cook the food they buy. 

Cooking demonstrations also allow us to engage with our customers and learn how they eat and prepare certain foods. A farmers market customer base can be rich in their cultures, backgrounds, and stories around food — we just have to be willing to listen and learn. 

  1. What is the Sprouts Club? 

Sprouts Club is the kids’ program we host during our Wednesday markets. Every week, the kids participate in an educational activity and then receive $5 in market bucks to spend at the market. 

  1. How did the DFM adapt to COVID-19? There are usually so many people at the market!

I wasn’t the market manager at the onset of COVID-19, but I can tell you that it was a tough time for the market. The market was forced to shut down for a few weeks, which, although necessary, was a significant financial burden for both the market and the vendors. Unsurprisingly, our vendors pivoted, and many established pre-order and drop-off systems and provided food to folks who could not otherwise afford to eat (especially not nutritiously). They proved to be resilient and community-focused. 

Once the market reopened, strict guidelines were put in place to manage the crowds and keep customers, vendors, and staff as safe as possible. One-way lines were formed, crowd management protocols were implemented, masks were enforced, and hand sanitizing stations were placed around the market. There were really no guidelines to follow, so everything that farmers markets around the country did during that time was unprecedented (maybe the most used word in 2020). While I wasn’t part of the DFM then, my understanding is that the market did a phenomenal job of ensuring its customers and vendors were taken care of. 

  1. Do you have a favorite season at the market?

I’m going to cheat here a little and say the transition from summer to fall. You can still get the last harvests of things like tomatoes and peppers, but vegetables like kale and leafy greens and butternut squash start to show up, so you get the best of both worlds. It’s a really wonderful time at the market. Plus, the weather is impossible to beat. 

  1. How would you like to see the market evolve, in the short-term and/or in the long-term?

Things I would really love to see happening at the market are an increase in diversity in both our membership and our customers, more educational opportunities for our customers (cooking demonstrations, education on the importance of shopping at farmers markets, community outreach, etc.), and more robust kids programming. Our market has so much potential to impact our community beyond the selling of foods and crafts; I hope we can reach that potential.

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