Rooted in Co-op history: Moscow Farmers Market

Heading over to the Moscow Farmers Market on a sunny summer Saturday is a tradition for many people in this community and beyond. In fact, between 5,000 and 6,000 people visit the market and its 130+ vendors each Saturday, according to Kathleen Burns, the City of Moscow’s Arts Director

How did this vibrant market begin? Many people may not know that the Moscow Food Co-op started the Saturday market back in 1976. With a few farmers on board and a lot of inspiration, the Co-op began operating the market in the parking lot behind what is now Moscow City Hall.

In this historic photo from June 2, 1990, Bob Bolin buys veggies from Kris McRae in Friendship Square. Photo courtesy of the Latah County Historical Society (1-02-119)

In this historic photo from June 2, 1990, Bob Bolin buys veggies from Kris McRae in Friendship Square. Photo courtesy of the Latah County Historical Society (1-02-119)

Co-op volunteer Dorothy MacEachern was instrumental to the start of the market. She wanted to offer more space for summer produce and to connect the community directly to its local and regional farmers. At that time, the Co-op was in a small storefront at 610 South Main (across from the fire station). She and other volunteers organized meetings and made phone calls to recruit a few producers, and gave it a shot in the summer of 1976.

“It was pretty free form, like a lot of things then,” recalled Dorothy, who later became a co-manager at the Co-op before leaving Moscow in the early 1980s. Getting farmers together for a Saturday market was viewed as experimental and involved little to no paperwork. A few vendors showed up, and from there the concept took root in Moscow.

“Moscow of course was way ahead of the curve,” Dorothy said. “So many communities are still struggling to create what Moscow has going on in spades.”

Local attorney and activist Linda Pall was the force behind the market becoming a City institution. She saw the value in the market as a means for supporting local farmers and enriching the community’s culture. Linda was appointed to City Council in late 1977, and in 1978 she convinced her colleagues to start the Moscow Arts Commission and formally take on the market.

Linda became the market coordinator and began organizing the vendors. Dubbed the “market mama,” for several years Linda would arrive early Saturday morning to get vendors into their spots. She also persuaded the council to charge vendors a fee for their space so that the revenue could pay for music and other entertainment and further develop the market.

As it has grown, the market has moved to a few locations throughout downtown. It moved from the City Hall lot, to Friendship Square, to the Jackson Street parking lot, and then to its current Main Street location. And now, nearly 40 years after its start, the Market is in the running for recognition as one of the best farmers markets in the country. The event is sponsored by American Farmland Trust, a national nonprofit dedicated to saving farmland for the next generation. The City is encouraging market shoppers to visit www.markets.farmland.org/market/moscow-farmers-market to endorse the Moscow market in the competition, which ends September 23rd at midnight EST.

The Moscow Farmers Market has inspired many markets in the region, said Kathleen, who has been leading the market and its staff since she became Arts Director in 2007. “People are wanting to know where their food is coming from. If it wasn’t for those customers wanting to know where their food is coming from, we wouldn’t have a successful market,” she said.

We would love to know more about the early years of the Market, especially from 1976 to 1980. Have any memories or photos to share? Please email ownerservices@moscowfood.coop.