Meet John Williams, Sola Gratia Farm and Red Crib Acres.
ILFMA Membership Drive is going on now through March 22. Membership is a great way to connect with other members, save money on registration for the upcoming conference and help support ILFMA’s efforts to growing stronger farmers markets in Illinois. During our drive we are featuring ILFMA members so you can learn more about all that ILFMA has to offer.
We spoke with John Williams, who is currently farm manager at Sola Gratia Farm and developing his own farming business, Red Crib Acres. Here’s what he had to say to about serving on the ILFMA board and why farmers markets are important to farmers:
Tell me a little about your farming background.
“This year I’ll be starting my fifth season farming. I have worked for four different market vegetable farms and at seven different farmers markets. This season, I’m working at Sola Gratia as farm manager, and managing a 3 acre apple orchard outside of Monticello in my free time. Sola Gratia is a 12 acre non-profit vegetable farm with a main mission to help feed and support underserved communities in our area that don’t have access to local, healthy food. As a part of our mission, we donate a portion of our food back to food food banks and other food access programs in Champaign-Urbana. We also sell produce to 160 CSA members and through Champaign and Urbana farmers markets.”
Why did you choose to serve as a board member of ILFMA?
“I chose to be a board member because I think the organization is important to help build strong farmers markets around the state and also build on the farmers market culture that we have. I wanted to give farmers a voice on the board. But also I wanted to support the organization because I knew they in turn supported the farmers markets that I was selling at.
I believe ILFMA is an organization that supports farmers markets through education and other resources. They also help with policy issues that can strengthen farmers market which trickles down and helps farmers and other vendors at each market.”
Why are farmers markets important to farmers?
“Farmers market are important to farmers and other vendors because it’s direct access to our customers. It enables us to have deep connections with customers so they can know about our growing practices, our farm, our specialty products….it also allows us to know what our customers needs or wants are. It leads to a better symbiotic relationship between farmer and customer. Another thing I like about the farmers market is that after a long week of working by myself and working hard to grow great produce, it’s nice to go to market and see customers excited about what we have grown and thankful for the work that we do to grow their food.”
What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing farmers market vendors today?
“One of the biggest challenges is the possibility of a shrinking market. There’s talk of farmers market sales going down and I think it may be true to some extent. I think the opportunity is that we have a culture starting to grow, especially in younger generations, and people are more interested in where food is coming from and how it’s grown. And as young people start to have the time and money, it allows them to shop at the market and see what’s so special about the market.”
What is your hope for ILFMA in the future?
“I can see ILFMA really growing to directly serve farmers market farmers and vendors even more through additional educational programs and support. I think the best way to do that is for farmers to see that ILFMA is not just for farmers market managers but is for the farmers market community as a whole by joining and being a part of the organization.”
Hear more from John at ILFMAs upcoming conference on April 4 in Monticello in his session for farmers about Farmers Market Math which is a workshop on how to better price your product to drive sales and increase purchases.
Ready to join or renew your membership? Click here.