Lots of Northwest Indiana communities have a farmer’s market, but few compare to the Griffith Central Market held from 4 to 10 p.m. each Friday from May through September.
A farmer’s market was one of the ideas in a study done by Ball State University students for the town about a decade ago. The study brought together various groups in town to list Griffith's strengths and weaknesses and recommend ways to improve things.
The market idea kind of floundered until Kathy Ruesken, a nearly lifelong resident, decided to do something with it.
Ruesken said downtown redevelopment had begun in earnest. Broad Street was redone with planters, sidewalks, and other upgrades, but no plan for upkeep. So, she took on pulling weeds and keeping things neat, and, as she did so, she began to think the time was right for a farmer’s market.
“I started going to other markets in the area to see what people liked and didn’t like,” she said. “Most are on the weekends or in the mornings. So, I put together a plan and pitched it to the town council.”
Based on her research, she stipulated three things: the market had to be in the Central Park, it had to be on Fridays and it had to have music, beer and wine. A majority of the council agreed; then she got the police chief’s support. The final piece of the puzzle was the town’s approval of a variance to serve alcohol in the park.
Ruesken went back to the other markets and recruited vendors she considered to be the best fit for Griffith. She had about 15 when the first market opened in 2013. That number has almost tripled since with a variety of foods and handcrafted items.
“The council really did come on board,” she said, citing Town Council President Rick Ryfa, council Vice President Glen Gaby and then councilwoman Patricia Schaadt as diving right in. Schaadt, who died unexpectedly in 2016, even sold tickets to the beer garden. “They helped secure the music and the beer, and I handled the organization.
“I had a lot of creative liberty. I maintained the volunteer aspect of my participation because I figured if they don’t pay me, they can’t tell me what to do. What it demonstrates is a community coming together with the government to create something that turned out to be phenomenal. That doesn’t always happen.
“For the first couple of years, it was me and three members of the council. My husband also helped. It was a small group, but it showed it doesn’t take a lot of people to make things happen,” Ruesken said.
The council also started making improvements to the park, installing remote controlled canvas sides to the pavilion so it could be enclosed and adding heating and more power. Fencing also was built around it.
“For years the park was pretty much unused,” Ruesken said. “We kind of turned that on its heels and helped change the town. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to create something to bring the different ethnicities together in a place they felt comfortable; to have them feel like we had them in mind when we created it. It’s brought a lot of attention to the town from all over.”
The first year she had no budget except what the town spent to get the park ready, and Ruesken said she did things like bring the beer barrels home and put them in her outdoor refrigerator. The market now brings in some money used to support other events. And, after five years, she turned over operation of the market to the town this year, though she continues to volunteer.
“It made sense for the town to take it over,” she said. “Sometimes people hold things too close, and they can’t grow. I love this town. The study sat on a shelf, and we had business as usual while the study collected dust. Rick Ryfa stepped in and started the wheels turning. The whole dynamic changed, and it’s a hot little town now. People are saying this is the place to be.”
Calumet Breweries of Hammond has been a part of the market from the beginning, providing beer and wine. Owner Matt Dwan called the market “a great town event that has everything you need.”
“Just like all the other events Griffith does, it’s grown into something great for the town,” Dwan said.
Sandy Coronado, who operates the Ay Chihuahua food truck, is another regular. “it started small, but I noticed the people supported it and it started growing," she said. "The music is fantastic. It’s something for people to do on Friday night, and they don’t have to spend a lot of money. It’s just a wonderful market.”
“I heard from other people that it was a nice market, so I started to go," said Mandy McGrath, of Lulu’s Licks, a food truck that offers a mix of Mexican and Peruvian food with Taiwanese tea. "It’s still one of the best places to go. (Ruesken) brought a whole different vibe to that market, and I love it. We’ve gotten a lot of exposure. It’s a great location and has great variety.”
To those who are looking for fun on a Friday night, it’s called just The Market, but it’s the place to be in Griffith.
Farmers Markets in Northwest Indiana