The Gilbert Farmers Market bustles with people of all ages skillfully weaving their way through crowds to ensure that they saw every food truck and vendor booth offering organic produce, farm fresh food and other locally-made artisan products.
Mouth-watering scents and sounds of laughter filled the air while families and pets roam and speak to small business owners.
The experience accomplishes a lot.
“Our mission is to promote local sustainability, healthy eating and green living practices among the Town of Gilbert and its surrounding areas,” according to the market’s website.
It also aims to educate people “about local food by providing them the opportunity to personally meet with the farmers and other vendors to learn where their food comes from and how it’s grown and produced.”
Also known as “Gilbert’s Foodie Market,” it debuted in October 2010 with fewer than 30 vendors. Now, the outdoor market has more than tripled its lineup and features more than 100 vendors Saturday.
It is now in its fall/winter mode, open 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays in an area west of the Gilbert Water Tower at the southwest corner of Ash Street and Page Avenue in the Gilbert Park & Ride.
Before every Saturday, a complete vendor map and lineup is posted on the market’s Instagram and Facebook page, both @gilbertmarket. Vendors offer baked goods, fresh drinks, hot food and more.
The market has not only brought people together during a time of uncertainty, but it has also helped small businesses by increasing sales, offering social media exposure and building long-lasting relationships.
The market helped businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to increase sales, provide new opportunities and serve as a source of networking, vendors say.
The public was encouraged to shop local, and farmers and vendors said they received vital support during a challenging time.
Much of the market’s success is credited to Dan and Jessa Koppenhofer, who founded GFM.
“Because of Dan and Jessa Koppenhofer’s tireless efforts, vendors had a home to sell their products each Saturday during the pandemic ... Dan and Jessa worked very closely with the Town of Gilbert to understand and implement the ever-evolving pandemic health guidelines to provide a safe environment for shoppers and vendors,” said Francis Nelson Beebe, a baker and president of Mr. Nelson’s Cookies.
It also was one of the few farmers markets open during the pandemic, so it attracted new customers, Beebe said.
Beebe noticed that many new customers from areas outside of Gilbert, including Phoenix and Scottsdale, found their way to the market and realized what a great place it is.
“This arrival of first time faces resulted in new sales for Mr. Nelson’s Cookies during the pandemic,” he said. “I would assume the other GFM vendors during this time experienced the same sales bump.”
Another way the Koppenhofers help GFM vendors is by promoting them consistently on the market’s Instagram page, which has over 55,000 followers.
“The Gilbert Market is truly a huge part of our success today,” said Marla Giordano, founder and owner of Marla’s Cupcakes. “Dan and Jessa gave us a chance to showcase our product to the East Valley and we have only continued to thrive.
“Thanks to Jessa, our social media presence is so much bigger and stronger, which has helped us receive more orders than ever before.”
Since starting at the market in April, Giordano said she couldn’t be happier and commends the Koppenhofers for the large role they play in keeping small businesses alive and thriving in the East Valley.
“We have the most amazing relationships with our customers, as well as other small businesses,” she added. “It truly is a great networking avenue.”
Interacting with hundreds of different customers on a weekly basis has opened doors for many businesses, such as Kettle Heroes Artisan Popcorn.
“Selling at the GFM allowed us the opportunity to interact with our customers in the East Valley on the ‘ground level’ and directly learn their wants and desires,” said Rudi Sinykin, chief operating officer and co-founder of Kettle Heroes Artisan Popcorn.
“More importantly, it opened up many sales avenues by introducing our brand to ‘foodies’ who appreciate natural, high-quality food,” he said.
Kettle Heroes Artisan Popcorn has been sold at the market since 2014, but Sinykin had no idea how much it would grow his business.
“Selling at the GFM introduced us to the Basha family and that chance encounter propelled us into selling our artisan popcorn at Bashas’ and AJ’s Fine Foods,” he said, explaining:
“This started a new trajectory for our business where we now are dedicated to producing packaged ready-to-eat popcorn and sell in grocery stores throughout the greater Southwest.”
Many vendors said one of their favorite things about the market is their relationship with customers and other vendors.
“We absolutely love being at GFM,” said Mary Zeiner, who owns and runs Waffle Crush with her daughter, Ariana. “We attend almost every Saturday, we have a lot of regulars who come every week to see us.
“My daughter Ariana (when she is on the truck) knows them by name and what they order.”
The Zeiners said that vendors come and purchase waffles from them each week and that their truck team buys from other vendors too.
“It is a great community that they have created and we are so happy to be part of it,” they said. “We are all small local businesses and we have to stick together to grow and strive for a great future.”
Another business that values the GFM community is The Local Lemon.
“We love our locals!” said Kelly and Sam Schumaker, who own The Local Lemon and began selling made-to-order lemonade at the GFM in July. They also sell fresh lemonade at Uptown Farmers Market in Phoenix every Saturday.
“The continuation of these two recent markets is just an additional source of income for us since we semi-retired,” they said. “Both markets are so well attended and the community supports local businesses. We are happy to be at each one!”
Isabella Ribaudo, founder and owner of Honeybee Cookie Company, started selling her decorated sugar cookies that are sweetened with local honey at GFM in 2019.
She too said that attending the market has been beneficial to promoting her business and selling her product.
Like other vendors, Ribaudo said she looks forward to growing her business and building relationships through the market for years to come.