Columbia Farmers Market inside

The market is located at 1769 West Ash St. at the MU Health Pavilion in Columbia's Agriculture Park. 

Growing up gardening with her mother in Missouri’s countryside and spending 15 years in the restaurant industry, Corrina Smith embodies Columbia Farmers Market’s commitment to fresh, local food.

The 42-year-old market has been extra successful with Smith in the executive director role, which includes recognition as the nation’s No. 1 People’s Choice Farmers Market in 2021. Then in March, the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded the market a $1.3 million grant to provide cover for the 58 stalls outside the MU Health Care Pavilion. “A year from now, if all goes as planned, everybody will be under one roof,” Smith says.

Construction is not the only thing in the farmers market’s future. From May 25 to Sept. 14, a new market will open on Wednesday evenings, with a Columbia Parks and Recreation food truck roundup every second and fourth Wednesday.

Smith predicts another prosperous year and she hasn’t lost sight of her commitment to farmers. “I’m passionate about helping them make a living and helping our community get access to this amazing food,” Smith says.

Vox spoke to Smith for our Vox Voice podcast in December 2021. What follows is condensed from that episode.

What put you on the path to running the farmers market?

My parents, especially my mother, is kind of what started my love — and maybe as a child, hate — for food. I grew up in rural Missouri. My mom fed me and my three sisters from her backyard farm. I vividly remember picking green beans as a kid and canning salsa, always helping her in the garden or in the kitchen, so that’s where my love for food really started. … I moved to New Orleans in 2015, I think, and that’s when I kind of became an adult. I was no longer rebelling against the way my mom raised me. I started to really appreciate and understand what healthy eating really was and what it meant. ... I started shopping at the Crescent City Farmers Market down there. That’s when I really fell in love with farmers markets.

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By 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Smith is matching the energy of the market vendors. "Go, go, go, go," she says. "All morning."

What are the qualities that help you do your job well?

Being the oldest sister. I think I’m pretty great at directing people and managing people. That is something I do on a regular basis. I’m also really passionate about it. I think that passion comes through with the work that I do for the market. Also, being very organized, waiting tables for so many years. Anybody that’s waited tables knows that you have to juggle a gazillion different things at one time. That’s kind of the same thing with this job. There’s never two Saturdays that are the same.

Last year, according to the Missourian the market’s sales topped $3.3 million, and the number of visitors nearly doubled. What do you expect this year?

I anticipate that we will break last year’s records. Last year, we were still under restrictions through May. So, to have a full — knock on wood — normal year, I’m really excited to see growth that we, hopefully, will experience this year. Something we noticed this winter was how successful our winter market was. … Every year, it grows a little.

Can you tell us more about the Wednesday market that begins May 25?

Every week, we’ll have live music and free kids’ activities. The plan is to offer a similar environment as the Saturday market, just with some more food options where people can come and get dinner and enjoy a nice evening at the Agriculture Park.

What are your long-term hopes for the farmers market?

There’s a very high age average for farmers. As we start seeing a lot of our current vendors retire, there’s going to be a need for new and beginning farmers. We want to be a space that helps cultivate that community.

Check out Vox Voice Episode 15 for more on Smith’s journey.

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