Four years ago, Patricia DiFrancesco Banning bought a home in North Buffalo and wondered where the local farmers market was located. As an advocate for local farms and healthy eating, Banning was disappointed to learn that there was no market within walking distance from her new home. An idea was born.
Banning went on to establish the North Buffalo Farmers Market which will open for its third season on Thursday June 2nd , 3 – 7 PM at the Holy Spirit Church parking lot, Hertel near Delaware Avenue. The Market serves the local community and focuses on Banning’s belief that everyone deserves to have easy, walkable access to healthy, local produce.
The Market’s modest beginning in 2014 proved to be a challenge. Banning, along with co-founder Christina DiFrancesco, secured the location at Holy Spirit Church just shortly before its opening and only four vendors were willing to take a chance on the new venture. But the weekly Market succeeded in attracting a loyal following and word spread. It ended its first year with fifteen vendors and over 6,000 shoppers.
In 2015, those numbers grew over the course of the season to 25 vendors and food trucks and 15,000 shoppers. This year the market will kick-off with almost two dozen full-season vendors with at least five more joining once the local produce season takes hold. O.G. Wood Fire Pizza has signed on as a major sponsor and its food truck will be at the Market every week.
Banning and DiFrancesco are careful about competition in order to allow farmers and small businesses to flourish. While shoppers certainly have a selection of produce and other vendors, the Market emphasizes quality over quantity. This creates opportunities for vendors to build strong relationships with individual shoppers – which is always good for repeat business.
There is also a strong emphasis on helping the under-served and at-risk population, such as seniors, children, and SNAP recipients. The Market participates in SNAP and will, for the second year, offer these shoppers the Double-Up Food Bucks program. The program matches SNAP purchases dollar for dollar for up to $20.
“Food is not a privilege. Everyone should get what they need,” according to DiFrancesco who led the effort to bring Double-Up Food Bucks to the North Buffalo Farmers Market in 2015. She added that the program addresses food security in the neighborhood and is “truly feeding people” as it follows the mission of the NBFM.
This year, Donny Keating of Joe’s Deli will be spearheading the Market’s Culinary Table initiative that features chefs from North Buffalo cooking healthy food with ingredients supplied by Market vendors. Free food samples are provided to shoppers and visitors.
Also launching this season is the Power of Produce (POP) Club, a program designed to teach kids aged 5-12, how to shop and eat nutritiously by engaging with local food producers through games and educational activities. Participating kids will also receive a $2 voucher to shop the market on POP days. The Buffalo State College Dietetics Program will be heading up this program.
After expenses, market revenue is shared with the community. A significant portion of the proceeds are allocated to the Holy Spirit Church Food Pantry and to Big Fuss, a local initiative that strengthens ties between local farms and restaurants.
Banning views her venture as more than just another market. “It’s humble, honest, real, and gritty. Investing in this market is investing in one another.” Her passion and enthusiasm to serve the community in which she resides beams in every word she shares.
The North Buffalo Farmers Market is the flagship project of The North Buffalo Organization (NBO), an all-volunteer non-profit. There are no paid staff and volunteers commit long hours to make the Market successful. But, “(I)t is Patty’s spirit of compassion that drives the Market” according to Joann Steinmetz, President of the NBO Board.
Author Alli Trusso-Lahey is the owner of sereniTEA and will return this year as a vendor at the North Buffalo Farmers Market.