When Rosalind May was named executive director of the Colorado Farmers Market Association last November, she brought some valuable experience to the position.
For the previous three years, she ran the Four Seasons Farmers and Artisans Market in Wheat Ridge, a southwestern suburb of Denver.
Like others around the state, the market has a unique origin story.
It was started in November 2015 by Dick and Margaret Barkey, owners of Colorado Wise Acres Farm in Ft. Lupton, which raises vegetables, eggs, pork and lamb.
After being vendors at the Denver Urban Homesteading year-round indoor farmers market in the Santa Fe Arts District, which closed in May of that year, they were convinced of the need for a year-round brick-and-mortar location where things like meat, honey and storage crops could be sold throughout the year and educational workshops offered.
The market now rents a permanent indoor space that is open Tuesday through Sunday with a special outdoor farmers market on Saturdays.
"The Wheat Ridge community has been really supportive, and they are really happy to have a market in their community," May said. "In winter in particular people will come from across town. It draws people from across in the entire metro area."
Stories like these show how markets can thrive by being creative and responding to the distinct needs of each community, she said.
But the mission of the association actually extends beyond supporting and promoting farmers markets to embrace all forms of direct marketing.
In March, the organization created new membership categories for farmer-ranchers and for farm stand and CSA operators.
"We just wanted to recognize how central farmers are to farmers markets and bring more of them into the organization," she said.
In addition to expanding membership, the association is using modern communications technology to educate marketers and managers more cost effectively.
This year the group started hosting market manager problem solving sessions every other month using the video-conferencing format.
"The markets can send in questions and problems they want to get addressed, and any market manager can join the call. We just facilitate the conversation," May said. "We've seen a really great response from that."
The association also hosts the occasional webinar with specific presentations on topics like how the double-up market bucks program works.
There are also loads of free resources on the website, which May plans to update and build on.
The annual conference in March is also a great resource. It moves to a different part of the state each year and includes related tours in the surrounding area.
Getting a market established can be what May called "a chicken-and-egg thing." Markets need participating farmers to draw customers, but farmers also need vibrant markets and sufficient foot traffic to afford the time and effort involved in setting up at a market.
Still, many communities, from Alamosa to Durango to Grand Junction and beyond, have successfully met the challenge, she said.
With more than 100 markets scattered around the state, May has not been able to visit them all. But she does plan to spend time studying various models in hopes of learning more about how market managers and farmers can build supportive relationships with local communities to achieve mutual success.