Following is a Q&A with the Executive Director of the Downtown Beloit Association, Shauna El-Amin. Shauna has been helping to run the Beloit Farmers Market for the past 12 years.
What motivated you to get involved in farmers markets?
Our organization took the farmers market over soon after its formation in 1987, but the farmers market started in 1975. We wanted to bring more people downtown, and develop a great community program.
What kinds of goods or services does your market provide?
We have everything at our market. We are a ‘grown by you or made by you’ market, so everything has to be grown or made by the vendor. But we have everything from produce, eggs, cheese, honey, baked goods, seafood, meat, poultry, and crafts. We also have food trucks, and then we have live music or entertainment and much much more than that.
Is there anything especially unique about your farmers market?
Well, we do have a lot of vendors who have been at our market since it started in 1975. So it’s really unique that it’s generational farmers that are here that have been here since day one. The other part that I think is unique is that we have it on the street. We have our market on the 300 block of State and the 400 block of East Grand in the road and so we close the streets downtown and have the market every Saturday. We are also year round. The outdoor market is from May through October, and then we go right to our indoor market that starts in November and that goes until the end of April. A lot of our vendors can have fresh produce in winter because they have greenhouses or hoop houses. I know some people think that in the Midwest, you can’t possibly have that kind of stuff going on, but we do and we’re very fortunate to have it.
What do you do as the director and what is your favorite part of your job, or the most rewarding?
Well, I do everything. We focus on promotion, which is what the farmers market falls under, in order to bring people to our downtown and to bring people into our businesses. And then we also focus on the design of the downtown — so we want to make sure that it’s always beautiful, but we also want to make sure that we are supporting our businesses. And then the economic vitality of the downtown is very important to us as well. We’re always recruiting new businesses if we do have vacancies. We have a very low vacancy rate downtown, which is great, but if we do have a vacancy, one of my main jobs is to recruit businesses to go in there. We also have to then focus on the organization itself. Like fundraising and sponsorships.
The most rewarding part, I would say, is helping all the small businesses be successful.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Dealing with weather, because we live in the Midwest. That’s the only difficult part of my job.
How do you wish to see your market grow in the future?
I think continuing to have amazing vendors. We are always looking to add to our market mix, and it definitely has to be 51% or more farm vendors. But we are also looking for new and exciting things to be added to our market, whether that’s food products, or entertainment. We have entertainment every Saturday throughout the entire summer. We’re always open to new ideas and I think that’s something that’s great for us … we have an amazing board who is always saying yes, which is really great.