Rose City Farmer’s Market is moving downtown!

When the Rose City Farmer’s Market kicks off its spring season in April, it’ll be in a long-awaited new home: the parking lot of Bill’s Unclaimed Furniture downtown, directly across from the strip of small indie stores on Broadway known as “Off the Square.”

“We wanted the location of the farmer’s market to be downtown all along,” says Jessica Bullock, a lead organizer of Rose City Farmer’s Market and the co-owner of Red Moon Farm, one of the market’s longest-running vendors. For one thing, being on a major street downtown means more people will notice the market while they’re out and about. She likes that the new location is close to places like ETX Brewing Co. and El Guapo Records, “other things people want to be doing with their Saturday morning.” Bullock also notes that the market’s new home is on a bus line; its previous home of three years, the parking lot of Jul’s in South Tyler, was accessible only by car.

Vendors along the Off the Square strip downtown are equally pleased to welcome the market as a neighbor. “I couldn’t be happier,” says Paige McGuffey, co-owner of florist studio Moss, which last year also traded South Tyler for downtown Broadway. She predicts the market’s new home will make shopping downtown something of a weekend “ritual” for more Tylerites. She’s personally looking forward to being able to visit the farmer’s market herself; McGuffey tends her shop on Saturday mornings, and in the past, she could never make it to Jul’s while Rose City Farmer’s Market was open. “Now I’ll get to just pop across the street,” she says.

The market’s journey to downtown has been a long one. “We would jokingly call ourselves the ‘nomadic market,'” says Carmen Sosa, who opened Rose City Farmer’s Market in 2013, after managing another market at the East Texas State Fairgrounds for a few years. From the start, Sosa was on the lookout for a permanent downtown location, one more accessible to Tyler’s underserved communities, “people who live in food deserts with limited transportation and are dealing with the other variables that create little to no access to fresh food.” Sosa met with city and county officials to find such a home several times over the years. In previous seasons, the market has had sporadic access to public downtown space—outside the Tyler Public Library and even right on the downtown square—but scheduling conflicts and other logistical obstacles invariably got in the way, and a lasting solution never crystalized.

When Jul’s proprietors offered space on their grounds, Sosa was grateful for the opportunity. But, she says, cities with thriving farmer’s markets tend to have a strong partnership between the market and the city. (She also notes that Tyler is an outlier among similarly sized cities in the sheer number of markets we have. Rose City is one of several, and depending on who you ask, that’s either great for competition or making it impossible for any of Tyler’s markets to truly succeed.)

The market’s new home isn’t on public ground, either. It’s owned by Cecilia Rodriguez-Bush and her husband, Bill Bush, who run Bill’s Unclaimed Furniture. Rodriguez-Bush reached out to Sosa last year about her interest in hosting a farmer’s market in front of the store. Sosa met with the couple, and the idea to move Rose City Farmer’s Market was born. A few months later, the nearly 30 vendors who sell at Rose City Farmer’s Market approved the idea. “Cecilia is so enthusiastic and has so much energy and enthusiasm for the development of the community in general,” says Bullock, the market co-organizer. “I’m excited to be working with somebody who is so on board with what we’re trying to do.”

Late last year, Sosa handed off management of the market to Bullock and other longtime market vendors and volunteers in order to spend time traveling and visiting family outside of Texas, but continues to play an advisory role. Bullock says that while she’s grateful for the generosity of private business owners who’ve put up space for the market, she continues to hold out hope that the market will one day find a home on publicly owned land run by the city, maybe in a shady corner of a centrally located public park. But with this move, she says, “we’re more meaningfully accessible to lower-income families, and that’s really important.”

Rose City Farmer’s Market is scheduled to open its spring season at Bill’s Unclaimed Furniture at 236 South Broadway on April 7th, and will run every Saturday from April to November from 8am to noon.

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Tasneem Raja is the Executive Editor of The Tyler Loop, a nonprofit journalism startup that explores policy, history, and demographics in Tyler, Texas. She is an award-winning journalist who has reported for NPR, The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, and other national outlets. A former senior editor at NPR, she launched a popular podcast exploring issues of identity and race with NPR's Code Switch team. At Mother Jones, she specialized in data visualization and led a team that built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She's a pioneer in the field of data-driven digital storytelling, a frequent speaker on issues of digital journalism, and a die-hard fan of alt weeklies, where she got her start as a local reporter. She lives in Tyler with her husband, her stepson, and two imperious terriers.
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