West Point farmers market ignites inclusivity and ingenuity within community

Farm and Food
Small Towns

Para la versión en español de esta historia, por favor oprima aqui.

Eunice Ramirez contributed to this blog.

Farmers markets throughout Nebraska spice up the summer months by offering locally grown produce, handcrafted items, freshly baked goods, live entertainment, and more.

A popular way for small farmers and artisans to sell their wares directly to the public, these events have spread in popularity around the state, and the world, for many years.

In West Point, Nebraska, organizers of a weekly farmers market have gone above and beyond buying and selling, and have brought their entire community together through inclusive events for adults and children alike, with activities and services offered in English and Spanish.

Starting a market

Aliza Brunsing has lived in West Point for the past four years and helped create the event because she wanted to see a farmers market reminiscent of the ones from her youth.

“I grew up attending the farmers market in the Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska,” she said. “It was something I looked forward to most Saturdays during market season. The smells, the people, the music, the sense of community—I loved every single aspect of it.”

With her hopes in hand, she reached out to Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong, executive director of the West Point Chamber of Commerce, and discovered they shared the same dream.

“When great minds think alike, amazing things can happen,” said Aliza. “That is how the West Point Farmers Market on the Avenue came to be. I was willing to make phone calls and dream, and Tina had all the contacts and knew how to make it happen—and she did.”

Through the chamber, Tina has helped with marketing, contacting vendors, and coordinating family-friendly activities and entertainment. Chamber representatives are also present at each market to help set out signs and trash cans, direct vendors, and welcome attendees.

Tina says West Point has seen a variety of vendor markets and farm/flea markets over the years, but 2021 was the first year for this all-inclusive event.

“We usually have a little bit of everything [at the market],” she said. “We’ve had food trucks, a lot of local vendors, and we also had vendors come from the surrounding communities of Scribner, Dodge, Emerson, and Lyons, Nebraska.”

Along with help from community volunteers, the farmers market organizers also received assistance from the Center for Rural Affairs.

“They helped us connect with statewide resources and organizations,” said Tina. “We also leaned on some local Center staff to connect with vendors. The Center hosted a hydration station one weekend, and staff have been huge supporters by volunteering and attending the market in several different capacities.”

Presenting an inclusive story hour

Center Project Assistant Eunice Ramirez helped bring the Center’s work to the community every Saturday morning by teaming up with staff from John A. Stahl Library to present a story time hour for children.

“We met and planned what book to read and we liked to follow it with an activity related to the book we were reading,” said Eunice. “I liked to teach a song and a theme to go with the book in Spanish. My long-term goal is for the children to learn a second language, either English or Spanish.”

Eunice hopes these activities will bring the community together and help everyone acknowledge what makes people unique.

“I taught them my home language and I wanted to foster a safe space where we could come together and celebrate our unique culture,” she said. “Discrimination is real, and because of this, it discourages people from visiting public places. I wanted to create a safe space where we can all learn, have fun, and most of all celebrate those differences.”

Coming together as a community

Eunice also translated marketing materials for the farmers market, including information on what can and cannot be sold, helped with social media updates, messaged Spanish-speaking members to deliver news, and acted as a translator during in-person and virtual meetings pertaining to the farmers market.

“We have specifically worked with Eunice who has been so supportive during all of the planning,” said Aliza. “We have a rich Hispanic community here in West Point and Eunice provided all the translating to ensure we were able to reach out to them so they could participate. It’s been so fun to see everyone come together for one good, and the community has loved trying the new foods, like empanadas, and meeting the people who make them.”

The organizers are proud of the inclusive, community-driven market they’ve put together.

“We have such a rich culture here, and the farmers market has really helped showcase that,” said Aliza. “Whether it’s the artists helping with the community piano, all of the bakers with their delicious food, or even young entrepreneurs selling their welding projects, we have seen vendors and businesses come together to promote community.”

Aliza says the market has something for everyone, including activities for kids that are offered through a donation of time and cost and are free to participants. 

“We were able to keep vendor fees down by utilizing the city parking lot and our wonderful community theater assisting us with providing electricity to some vendors and being huge cheerleaders of the event,” Aliza said. “We have had sellers of all ages and all walks of life coming down to check it out. It’s been wonderful seeing all the families come down to shop or play.”

Making each season better

Everyone involved in this farmers market has taken part because they have a love of community and fond memories of markets from their past. They plan to try to make each new season even better than their first.

“Initially, I wanted a place to access fresh produce and have entertainment for my own family (in addition to friends, neighbors, and the community),” said Tina. “What I found is that it brought about a strong desire to get involved rather than just wanting to attend.”

Both adults and children were trying to find things they could make or grow so they could be  vendors.

“Kids looked forward to the art academy’s activities, which inspired new creativity,” Tina said. “The Cuming County Extension office’s Harvest of the Month Club helped kids try new foods in new ways. It has been amazing to see entrepreneurship at the most basic level develop out of the farmers market.”

Eunice agrees, and feels the market brings people of all walks of life together in a positive way.

“I think every community has a farmers market, and I have visited a few and I can tell you ours is small but we are growing and it is getting out there,” she said. “I am focused on inviting and encouraging all people from around the world, walks of life, and all sorts of different cultures to be a vendor and to be part of the market. What makes me feel that ours is special and unique is because we want to celebrate diversity in our small town. I want to create a space to celebrate this diversity with the kiddos, and expose them to all these differences our town has to offer.”

Aliza thinks back fondly on her childhood and hopes the West Point farmers market can offer others memories to last a lifetime, too.

“Farmers markets are so important—they give community members direct access to locally produced food and goods and support the businesses selling them,” she said. “When consumers have a convenient way to shop locally, the money stays in the community and the community can grow. They also build togetherness. Like I said before, all cultures, all ages, they are all welcome. I go back to my experience in Lincoln—there were times when we would just go to go. We didn’t buy anything, we would just walk around and look and watch all the people. Events like farmers markets just make you feel good, and help grow the pride you have in your community.”

This year, the West Point Farmers Market on the Avenue ran June 5 through Aug. 28 from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays in the West Point Community Theatre parking lot. To stay up to date with this farmers market, follow it on social media; to learn more about the Center’s continued involvement with farmers markets around the state, visit cfra.org.

Top feature photo: Center staff helped present a story hour in both English and Spanish during a farmers market in West Point, Nebraska. A book and activity were offered in hopes to bring the community together.  |  Photo by Kylie Kai

Bottom feature photo: Farmers market organizers in West Point, Nebraska, leveraged a rich Latino culture to expand their event into an inclusive, community-driven market. Center staff helped translate and reach out to potential participants.  |  Photo by Kylie Kai