A Story Of HOPE at East Austin’s Only Farmers’ Market
We’re a small team of designers on the beginning of our path to understanding interaction design and applying it in real world context. We’ve been conducting research for the past several weeks at a small farmers market in East Austin, Texas. The goal of our project is not to pick out problems or successes within the market but to observe and analyze the way this grassroots operation at Plaza Saltillo in East Austin functions as a whole. Myself and my team-mates, Lauren and Leah have visited the market weekend after weekend to better understand and embed ourselves in this ecosystem. We’ve spoken with the directors of the market, it’s vendors, and its customers. We have learned a wide variety of information from these parties and are reading into each piece with equal value to really get a feel for what it’s like to participate in this market.
As Austin grows in population day by day so do the dynamics of the city. East Austin’s number of multi-level apartments have started to cast a shadow on this once sleepy, sun-soaked market square on Sunday Mornings. As we’ve watched and documented the set-up of the market through tear down in the afternoon, we have seen that the clientele is just as diverse as the vendors themselves. Few farmers markets in the city offer the use of EBT and SNAP benefits like HOPE does. While some come to the market to utilize their SNAP and EBT benefits, others stroll through to purchase CBD products, juice elixirs and listen to eclectic tunes. There’s something special about HOPE that sets it apart from the rest of the farmers markets in Austin.
Through in depth one-on-one conversations with organizers, vendors and customers we’ve gained invaluable information into the happenings of the market. We are at a point where we are putting these people’s stories forward to paint a better picture of what HOPE Farmers Market really is.
Melissa – “What the f*** is turmeric?!” shared this first-time market goer. Melissa and her dog Sunny sat with us for an interview on a balmy 100 degree afternoon. Melissa had googled things to do on Sundays the night before and ended up on a bench in the shade at HOPE. She sat down with us on a bench under the veranda and shared a bit about who she is and how she ended up at the farmers market that day. Melissa credits her sister as being the “farmer’s market person” in the family. She explained to us that she had trouble understanding how to “work a farmers market”, and that she didn’t intend on buying anything that day. She also explained that she usually shops by color. Once she became more comfortable throughout the conversation she openly admitted she was intimidated by the farmers market experience, but that she enjoyed the relaxed vibe of HOPE. She hopes to return once she understands the flow of the market a bit better. To her, HOPE felt laid back and actually appeared to be more of an artist’s market than a true farmers market. She also was interested in finding out more about the dog related products that the vendors had to offer because she leads a “dog-centric lifestyle”.
Lindsay – We spoke with a cyclist passing through the market on her way to Barton springs. She came to visit the kombucha dealer of the market but her voyage was to no avail. She was perplexed at there only being one cold drink vendor on this toasty Austin summer afternoon. She recounted with us the early days of the market and how it has changed from an eclectic warehouse spot to Saltillo Plaza over time. She explained that she usually makes an effort to stop by HOPE. She’s usually just passing through or meeting someone for coffee, but she elaborated that she finds HOPE to be a valuable asset to the community and hopes that it doesn’t die. When we went through her bag with her to see what she brought with her that day, she realized that she had brought a lunch with her to the market. She didn’t plan on buying any food there.
Bertha – The third customer we spoke with came to the market with intense direction. A resident of the neighborhood for twenty years, Bertha walked through with her sickle in one hand and her son’s hand in the other. Bertha shared that she was coming by to shop for groceries and also to get her sickle sharpened at the knife sharpening stand. She uses her sickle to cut her front lawn and “threaten her neighbors”. Bertha made a few quick comments about the high-rise complexes in the area and her fear of drones delivering groceries to nearby apartment patios. She said that she generally didn’t feel like a part of what was going on in the neighborhood anymore and she generally kept to her own corner. That being the market and her front yard…
Our stories from the field continue with a glimpse into the lives of vendors of the market;
Jessie – We were fortunate enough to meet Jessie, an entrepreneur and immigrant with a personality as sweet as her products. We were able to visit Jessie in her place of preparation at a nearby commissary kitchen to watch her prepare the goods she brings to the market. Jessie shared her heartwarming story of why she uses the ingredients she does to provide a sweet yet health conscious treat to those who seek it.
Jeff welcomed us into his home, which also functions as his lab space, stock room and partner’s art studio. Operating out of a tiny apartment near downtown Jeff, an engineer by trade, shared his real reason for making quality CBD products. He and his mother have sensitive skin, and have always struggled to find products that they could use. He first tests all of his products on his own body. If he is personally happy with the product, only then will he sell it at a market. While he has plans to scale the company, and sell both white-label and wholesale, he says he will never leave the farmers markets behind. He’s in this business for the positive effects he can have on others, and nothing compares to being able to see that pleasure on his customer’s faces. He explained how much he has learned about the CBD industry as well as his excitement for a booming new industry. It’s a time for CBD, he explained, that is very similar to the days of the wild west.
Lastly, we spoke with an employee of the market, Amber. Amber is a roaring ball of energy who openly shared many details of the market, her love of farmers markets in general, and her personal motivation for showing up every Sunday, even in the heat. She and her family come in from their own farm out of town to run the show. Amber brings her shining personality and passion for humans weekend in and out. She sees to it that the front and back end of things are taken care of, so that vendors have the ability to focus on their products. She sees her role in the market as an opportunity to let others flourish.
Through these deep conversations we were able to learn much more about what motivates humans to return to this tiny farmers market on the east side. We shared a few of these stories with our client and we were met with a positive response. The staff of the market works tirelessly, and doesn’t often have time to step back and evaluate. They loved hearing vendor and customer feedback. As we work towards synthesizing the data included here along with 12 other interviews, we hope to find threads and patterns that will generate insight into what the market can do to evolve.