Reggie’s Southern Hospitality owner Reggie Conerly stirred a cauldron of jambalaya with a four-foot wooden spoon Friday at the Downtown Laramie Farmers Market.
His daughter, Camille, buzzed around their kitchen tent, battering catfish, dropping hush puppies into the frier and stirring the the coleslaw.
“We’ve been doing this together for 5-6 years,” Reggie said, adding a healthy portion of chopped green onions into his 15-gallon cast iron jambalaya pot. “Food brings people together, and people out West love Cajun food.”
Droves of shoppers meandered through the market. Mothers pushed strollers past craft stalls, clusters of university students gabbed about their newest classes and several visitors walked their dogs as they shopped.
The midday sun was quickly turning my pale complexion beet red, so I cooled off with a blackberry bourbon punch from the Front Street Station tent bar as Reggie turned to prep a batch of chicken and catfish.
“(Vending food) is a hobby, an addiction, a labor of love,” Reggie explained, his voice trailing off mid-sentence. “This is our second year at this market. Even though it’s a smaller town, the vendors are a tight-knit group, and the farmers market is truly a community event.”
Bobbing her head along with the live band playing a few hundred feet away, Camille loaded a sampler plate for me, and I set off to find some shade.
Hosted by the Laramie Main Street Alliance in Depot Park, at the intersection of Second and Garfield streets, the market starts around the end of June and opens every Friday at 3 p.m. until the last week of September, Market Manager Lindsay Olson said.
“The market is a nice way of introducing people to downtown,” Lindsay explained. “Visitors may not know much about the area, but when they see the tents, they tend to come right on over. It’s kind of like a gateway to all the things Laramie has to offer.”
Outside Cream City Market owner Mark Albrecht’s stall, people lined up for a taste of his aromatic fried cheese curds.
“I come up from Denver,” Mark said, jostling a small frying pan over a butane burner to prevent the curds from charring. “This farmers market is robust. It’s happening. It’s a destination.”
Mark and his wife quit there jobs in Wisconsin and moved to Colorado after discovering a ripe market for cheese curds a few years ago.
Nowadays, the cheese peddlers travel to various markets and events throughout the Rockies, spreading their love for dairy wherever they go.
“In Wisconsin, we pan fry cheese curds,” Mark said. “You don’t need oil or breading. It’s just cheese. I find it’s a game changer for most people. All you need is a smoking-hot pan.”
The crispy curds were bursting with flavor, and I had to pull myself away from Mark’s stall before I gobbled down all his samples.
Between the beer tents, food vendors and various crafters, I found several produce suppliers, including ACRES Student Farm, one of the University of Wyoming’s registered student organizations.
“We’re completely student run,” said Jordan Pierson, a junior working on an agricultural business degree. “We maintain the farm and grow the food.”
The market stall profits are re-invested in the farm and selling the produce gives the students a chance to interact with their customers, she explained.
“The farmers market can be a business incubator to an extent,” Lindsay chimed in. “It’s a way for up-and-coming retailers to experiment with a product without committing to a storefront or a full product line.”
Founded about 13 years ago, the farmers market features approximately 85 vendors in 2018 with an average of 50 attending attending each Friday.
“We’re growing each year, and it’s become quite the event in the last decade,” Lindsay said. “I’m already looking forward to the line up we have slated for next year.”
Whether you’re looking for a midday snack, fresh veggies for dinner or a taste of Laramie’s culture, the Downtown Laramie Farmers Market is definitely worth a look-see.