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Background Image Man standing in front of produce at the Iola Farmers' Market. Photo by Robin Schallie.

Iola: Reviving an Oasis

When Iola’s farmers' market and local grocery store closed in the 2000s, it created a food desert for the community’s residents. How has Iola responded since? Find out in the Bowlus Fine Art Center’s online exhibit, “A Revival of the Iola Farmers' Market,” part of Humanities Kansas’ Crossroads: Change in Rural America statewide initiative. Crossroads sparks dialogue about how rural areas are adapting to change, and for Iola, that has meant making a commitment to ensuring needed resources are available to residents. “A Revival of the Iola Farmers' Market” explores how the market’s return has benefitted the community and how Iola is looking to the future.
View the online exhibit

Photo of a produce stand under a tent at the Iola Farmers' Market. The banner says Hecks Family Produce.

Heck's Family Produce stand at the Iola Farmer's Market Photo by Emily Counsil.

Questions for Discussion

Take a few minutes to explore “A Revival of the Iola Farmers' Market” and then answer the following questions:

  1. While Iola was once a food desert, the revival of the farmers' market helped make fresh, local food available again. What is food access like in your community? How far do you have to travel to purchase groceries? How many local options are there to choose from? What could improve food access in your community?
  2. One of the concerns in Iola is that many local farmers are in their 60s, and younger farmers will be needed to sustain the farmers' market in the future. In response, the local Farm Bureau plans to teach practical horticulture techniques to local high school students. What sustainability challenges does your community face? What are some possible solutions?
  3. Many rural areas across the country are struggling with decreasing populations. For Iola, addressing this problem has meant focusing on providing access to healthcare and healthy resources like the farmers' market to attract new residents. What are some other practical strategies that might attract more people to settle in rural areas?

Go Further

Now that you’ve explored the “A Revival of the Iola Farmers' MarketCrossroads online exhibition, consider the following activities as ways to enhance your learning:

  1. Uncover where your food comes from. Read about food supply chains and how far food can travel to get to your plate. Next time you’re looking at your produce, look for labels to see where it was grown or packaged. Do the answers surprise you?
  2. Consider the resources in your community and what could improve quality of life for residents. Thrive Allen County is the largest and most prominent rural health advocacy organization in Kansas. In the last decade, the organization helped establish a community garden and a dog park in Iola and assisted with building more than 27 miles of hiking and biking trails in the county, among many other projects. What assets does your community offer to help encourage healthy lifestyles? What are some possibilities for the future? You can submit your responses on the Crossroads website.
  3. Learn about the history of food and rural Kansas. Hear a short telling of the story of Vegetopia, Kansas, a vegetarian settlement created by Henry Clubb in the 1850s on the Humanities Hotline. Want to start a conversation in your community? Book a Speakers Bureau presentation in-person or online on “Vegetopia: The Kansas Colony Way Ahead of Its Time” or “The Rural Grocery Store: Innovative Community Builder." Looking for book discussion options? Check out the "Food for Thought" TALK series that features books about food and community.
  4. Visit your local farmers' market this spring or summer. If you aren’t sure about your local options, check out the listing of the state’s local farms and markets from Kansas Tourism.

Don’t forget to share what you’ve learned by telling us about it on Facebook or Instagram.  You can tag us with your thoughts at @humanitieskansas using the hashtag #CrossroadsKS. Where will the Kansas Crossroads take you next? Explore more exhibits at


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