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What to expect as Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market transitions to Electric Works ownership

"Our plan is to continue the market in the same fashion Leigh started it: focusing very much so on the farmers and local producers."
What to expect as Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market transitions to Electric Works ownership

When Leigh Rowan started Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market about 12 years ago, she envisioned the type of market where she, as a bread vendor (Big Brick House Bakery), would want to sell. A weekly, year-round, “no frills” shopping experience, where residents could stock up on quality, locally grown and made staples, like milk, produce, eggs and bread.

“I wanted it to be like the European markets I visited in my travels,” Rowan says. “We weren’t going to have many arts and crafts or be the biggest, most fun farmers market. I wanted to keep it simple.”

While her ambitions may have been simple, what’s resulted is a market that’s grown into one of the city’s most popular weekend activities, that’s fed the community during the pandemic when grocery store shelves were barren, and that’s spurred on the city’s farm-to-fork food scene in ways you might not consider from the outside looking in.

“One of the owners of Junk Ditch said to me once: You don’t realize what you’ve done, do you?” Rowan recalls. “By creating a weekly, year-round farmers market in Fort Wayne, we’ve given farmers and food producers more incentive to grow and sell their products locally, which gives local restaurants more products to source locally and maintain their farm-to-fork menus.”

Since its beginnings, Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market has catered to farmers and food producers first and foremost, maintaining a ratio of at least 80 percent farm food and natural products year-round at its various locations, both indoors and outdoors – often tending toward 95 percent.

Rowan notes that many restaurants in Fort Wayne, including Junk Ditch (under Affine Hospitality), started selling their products at farmers markets, as vendors and food trucks, too.

“Coming up through a farmers market is a great way to test your business concept and make it more sustainable,” Rowan says.

It’s these reasons – and more – that when Rowan first heard about Fort Wayne’s Electric Works project several years ago, she wanted to move Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market to campus permanently. As an “innovation district,” Electric Works seeks to serve businesses at all points of development, from startup to multimillion dollar corporation.

Last summer, Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market moved into Dynamo Alley, where it drew an estimated 5,000 guests to campus on its first day. This spring, as Rowan prepares for retirement in the fall, she’s working with the team at Electric Works and Union Street Market to transition the weekly farmers market to their ownership as well as a permanent home on campus year-round. And as Rowan has learned leading farmers markets, change always breeds questions.

Some residents and market vendors are beginning to wonder: What will the future hold for Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market, and will the market maintain its focus on farmers first?

While details are still being hashed out, we spoke with the new leader of Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market, Ermin Husidic at Electric Works, to get an idea of what’s in store when the market opens on May 18, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Ermin Husidic at Electric Works.

Tell us a little bit about your background and role at Electric Works.

EH:  I’m originally from Bosnia, but I went to high school in Fort Wayne and joined the Airforce. Then I was stationed in South Dakota for several years and worked there before I moved back to Fort Wayne in June 2022 and started working at Electric Works shortly after.

My background has been in food and beverage for a number of years. In South Dakota, I worked at a winery and actually started a farmers market at the winery to bring fresh produce to our small town. I also worked in the restaurant, hotel and country club industry, managing food and beverage operations, before I moved back to Fort Wayne be closer to family. Now, I’m the Market Director of Union Street Market at Electric Works, so I work with market vendors on day-to-day operations. I will be the point person this summer as we make the transition to taking over Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market, too. 

What steps are being taken to transition the market to Electric Works ownership this summer?

EH: We want to do the transition well and continue all the good work Leigh and Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market have done during the past 12 years. Our plan is to continue the market in the same fashion Leigh started it: focusing very much so on the farmers and local producers. We plan to maintain the current ratio of farm food and natural products that people have come to know and expect at Ft. Wayne’s Farmers Market.

This summer, we’ll be doing a lot of learning, following and shadowing Leigh and her team to make sure it’s a smooth and seamless transition. That said, it’s still very early in the process. We’re just discussing the early stages and are very much focused on opening day on May 18. Once we get the ball rolling and have the first market under our belt, we’ll start working on other details.

Will there be changes to the farmers market this summer that guests might notice?

EH: No major changes this summer. It will still be an excellent market with entertainment and various events that accompany it – with some additional programming from our end at Union Street Market, as well. Looking to the future, Electric Works was recently approved as a Deignated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA), similar to the DORA Downtown. Our DORA is not operational yet. (Stay tuned for announcements.) But once it is, visitors will be able to get a beverage at Union Street Market or Chapman’s Brewing and stroll the farmers market merchants or campus with that.

How did the market go last summer at Electric Works?

EH: Last year, opening day of the summer farmers market, we had way more visitors on campus than I expected. Even early in the morning, people were filling bags with produce. It was exciting to see. 

The farmers market vendors and staff did a great job of setting it up to make a seamless transition between the farmers market and Union Street Market, too. I think it left a positive impression on our vendors at Union Street Market. Many of them have already asked me this spring: When’s the first day of the farmers market? They’re ready for the garage doors to be open and to have more vendors here.

Another perk of having the market at Electric Works is our abundance of parking with the Union Street Market parking garage. If you haven’t visited campus yet, it’s very easy to park and walk from the garage. Be sure to check out our website for details and a parking map.

What will the winter market look like this fall?

EH: We are planing to keep the winter market indoors on campus. We need to strategize and find a perfect location that will fit all the vendors who want to particiapte, but the plan is to keep the winter market going at Electric Works this fall.

If guests or vendors have questions about the market’s future, who can they contact?

EH: Contact me at usm-info@fwelectricworks.com with any questions.