A rainbow of produce cascades through the Webb City Farmers Market as a parade of consumers sniffs, squeezes and scrutinizes its way from one end of the long, open-sided pavilion to the other.

On a good day — at the peak of the garden season — about 2,000 people will stop in to buy fresh, locally grown products from 35 area growers. On an early July Saturday this summer, $23,000 in sales rang up in just three hours — bolstered by a strong sweet corn offering.

And the farmers who bring the “fruits” of their labors to the Webb City, Missouri, market are the absolute key to success.

“From the very beginning, it’s been a farmers market with an emphasis on the farmers,” says market manager Eileen Nichols. “You have to grow it, raise it or make it to sell it here.”

The farmers have been selected for quality. Each has taken a food safety course and their operations are inspected.

Nichols says the growers respond to the market, providing what consumers hunger for.

That has been the case for Owen and Esther Detweiler of Lamar, Missouri. Owen is renowned for his melons and their popularity has changed his marketing strategy.

“We have trended from a wholesale operation to retail, largely because of the Webb City Farmers Market — this is the best place to be to sell produce,” he says.

Detweiler is savvy enough to know that it is not his melons alone that drive people to Webb City.

“This is a great atmosphere,” he says. “Yes, we are competing with the other growers but we need each other to bring in the customers — there is a real sense of community here.”

Detweiler says there are a lot of local and return customers, but there are also many people who are willing to drive a considerable distance and still more who happen to be visiting or passing through and have heard of the market’s reputation.

That reputation has resulted in the Webb City grassroots enterprise being selected as one of the finest in the South by Southern Living Magazine.

Detweiler’s operation also reflects the market itself. With three high-tunnel facilities, growing melons and other produce is a year-round activity for him.

The Webb City market is also year-round — during the growing season from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays under the pavilion in King Jack Park. The rest of the year it is open on Saturday mornings.

And it’s not just produce that’s for sale. In addition to beef, pork and lamb, there are handmade products, ready-to-eat food and plenty of unique programs.

Some of the special programs include nutrition education — especially for children — and food preparation.

“One of our goals is to introduce kids to fresh, local foods,” Nichols explains. “I’ve had mothers comment to me that they didn’t know their kids liked corn on the cob until they experienced it here at the Market.”

And, more than likely, if you attend the Farmers Market, there will even be musical entertainment.

All of those special activities help make the market, which began in 2000 as a chamber of commerce initiative, but both Nichols and Detweiler agree that is the vast array of locally-grown food products that bring consumers to Webb City.

“People want to know where their food comes from,” says Detweiler who plants 500 melon plants six to seven times a year. “They want quality and they want to be able to talk to the people who grow it.”

And so, in addition, to table after table laid out with their colorful and nutritious offering, the thousands of people who come to the Webb City Farmers Market also get conversation.

And find out exactly where their food comes from. £