Father of the Farmers Market

By on December 20, 2016

How Jim Darwiche gave birth to a farmers market culture in Jackson Hole.

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JACKSON HOLE, WY – “I saw that we needed something to bring the community together,” explained Jim Darwiche.

A Jackson resident since 1971, Darwiche is a local businessman and former Teton County commissioner. I caught up with Darwiche over a cup of tea in the lobby of Hotel Jackson, the boutique hotel he and his family own and operate on Glenwood Street. I wanted to know how he came up with the idea to start a farmers market on the Town Square in Jackson and how he made it happen.

“You have to understand what it was like back [in the 1990s],” he said. “There was no community anymore. People were leaving. A lot of powerful people came into the valley and got involved in the music festival, the arts, the wildlife. But it was like we lost the core of our community. All of a sudden you had to spend a lot of money to go to an event.”

Darwiche wanted to create a community event where everyone would feel welcome. “Something that an old timer can come to, a newcomer can come, everyone is even.” Darwiche’s only requirements: It had to be free. It had to be fun.

Around that time Darwiche had been visiting a friend in Germany. When the woman who ran his guesthouse took him to the local Saturday farmers market, he knew just what Jackson needed.

“I was in a leadership program through the Chamber,” Darwiche recalled, “and I said: I’d like to start a farmers market here. Who’s on board? Who wants to help?”

Only two hands went up.

“Some people told me: You are out of your mind. We don’t grow anything in Jackson.”

Yet he couldn’t shake the idea that Jackson needed a farmers market, and it needed to be on the Town Square.

So, “just like planning a business, I started planning the farmers market,” he said. Darwiche handpicked the board to represent one person from every click in town—young, old, marketing, real estate, music, design.

“Some people I didn’t even know, but I invited them to join,” he said. “You have to bring people from all walks of life.”

Once the seed was planted that Jackson Hole needed a farmers market, Darwiche says the rest was an uphill battle. “I sat on the phone for more than four days trying to convince people from Ogden and Logan to bring food here. People said we needed to be organic. I said, ‘We can’t be picky! Bring the food and let the people make the choices.’”

In July 2001, the first Jackson Hole Farmers Market on the Town Square was launched with just a few tables and a handful of vendors. “The first market was like a baby,” Darwiche said. “All the conditions are hard. It needs attention; you can’t just let the baby run in the street.”

But with time, the farmers market grew up. “We added a chef,” Darwiche said, “and that wasn’t easy in the summer. We added one nonprofit organization a week. It’s their market; we give them everything we make.”

Darwiche devised a system where each vendor takes 10 percent of their income from that market and passes it on to the nonprofit of the week.

“It’s all on the honor system,” he said. The farmers market itself only makes money for operations from the sale of canvas bags imprinted with their logo.

Now that his farmers market baby is almost 16, Darwiche is a proud parent. “It’s very successful, I see it as a fun event for the community. There should never be a fee to come into the farmers market.”

When Darwiche was asked to join the Wyoming Farmers Market Association, there were only two farmers markets in the state, Jackson and Cheyenne.

He helped open 21 farmers markets in the Cowboy State. “I literally set up the Casper farmers market in one day; they had a workshop and by the end of the day we had set up a market.”

Today there are 37 farmers markets across the state.

How does Darwiche see the future of the food movement in Jackson Hole? “The food is an important element, it’s our nourishment,” he said. “Some say what you eat is who you are. But the other nourishment is from the love of your community, the lifestyle you live, and the people around you. We have to be conscious of those things.” PJH

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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