On the Beat: Farmers’ market will be back next summer

On one occasion, we picked up some sugar snap peas and blueberries. A vendor with baked goods attracted my eye and nose on another trip. And on yet another visit, the family had snow cones that hit the spot on a sunny afternoon.

The Philomath Farmers’ Market had its work cut out this summer. Previous attempts with the same idea had failed and deep down, you had to wonder if this small community would be able to support such an endeavor, especially with a Saturday market in neighboring Corvallis remaining so popular.

Mark McGuire, president of the nonprofit Bountiful Backyard and chair of the farmers’ market steering committee, said the market will be back in 2021. In October, he issued a report to the Philomath City Council.

But before looking ahead to next year, let’s take a look at what McGuire had to say about this past summer. The market included an average of 16 vendors per week. The number of customers — and keep in mind this was during a pandemic — ranged from 50 to 100 per day. The markets were offered from 2-5 p.m. on Sundays.

“No real hard counts, I can estimate,” McGuire said. “It seemed like each week was a steady trickle. We’d have waves, but there was always a group walking through.”

If you recall, the market had originally planned to run for just six weeks but vendors talked the organization into extending it for another month.

“As the season progressed, I do think there was a general increase in traffic,” McGuire said. “Every single week this summer, I ran into people who didn’t know there was a market, which told me every week, more and more people were aware of it.”

A selection of fruit from this past summer’s Philomath Farmers’ Market. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

McGuire said the market benefits the local economy in three ways:

• Economic development with 23 vendors selling through the season and keeping dollars local. McGuire said some of those vendors had never sold at a market previously. He also mentioned that the market did not charge vendors who weren’t selling something.

• Community development with the market providing a platform for nonprofits to reach out as well as an opportunity for citizens to interact.

• Healthy, fresh food in a town without a grocery store.

Bountiful Backyard did a survey of vendors and volunteers at the end of the summer. Nine responses came in and all indicated that they would return next year. Eight of the nine called the market financially viable with the one response that said it wasn’t being a nonprofit and not a farm.

McGuire said the farmers’ market was self-sustaining through the Year 1 pilot project. But the city did step in and provide significant help — use of the library parking lot, water fountain, restrooms and electricity, for example. Mayor Eric Niemann volunteered time to help and City Recorder Ruth Post worked behind the scenes helping manage vendors.

McGuire said the market did not have to turn away any vendors, except for those who inquired about alcohol or hot food sales. The steering committee plans to revisit its policies moving forward — primarily to make a final determination on the ratio between vendors selling fresh produce and those selling arts and crafts. McGuire mentioned a 3-to-1 ratio that’s common at other markets.

“I’ve heard from other market managers that you can go down a slippery slope where you are overwhelmed with craft vendors,” McGuire said. “I did start to see that … as we got toward the end of the market, especially. A lot of people were reaching out letting me know of their interest and talking about next year.”

As such, the committee wants to have clear policies in place.

Now, for a peek at what next year may bring. Plans include a better signage and advertising strategy, implementation of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pilot program and if the funds are available, the hiring of an intern.

The CSA system could provide a boost for vendors and customers.

“This is something that the organizing body of the farmers’ market (Bountiful Backyard) has done in the past and wants to integrate through the market as a way that vendors can pool produce into organized baskets and they can be delivered to paying customers who are off-site and not actually at the market,” McGuire said.

McGuire said the farmers’ market wants to pursue the possibility of hiring an intern to serve as a paid market manager.

“If the market grows like we would like it to, the pressure to bring on an intern or someone to be paid to run the market will become more of a focus for us,” McGuire said.

One idea that came up involved a discount for vendors who commit to the summer.

“Someone had mentioned a 5% discount to vendors who pay up front for the entire season,” McGuire said. “It helps both sides because the vendor gets a discount and the market has that commitment.”

McGuire said it would also combat another issue.

“One of the problems we had was no-shows — people saying they would come but never game and we don’t get payment for that stall and just have an empty space,” he said.

The organization received a financial boost through a $3,000 grant from the Grand Ronde Tribe’s Spirit Mountain Charitable Fund. Mayor Eric Niemann managed the grant effort with the official applicant being American Legion Marys River Post No. 100 Commander Elwin Callahan. The money will go toward the expense of additional tables, signage and canopies for next summer’s market.

Niemann lauded the efforts of McGuire.

“I would say initially, if we rewind the tape from about a year ago, I’d say this council was probably a skeptic of the farmers’ market and Mark, I think you’ve made us believers,” Niemann said. “Your energy and passion and vision to make it happen, I think, was the difference this summer.”

According to the farmers’ market section on Bountiful Backyard’s website, the dates are to be determined for 2021 but it is estimated to run for 16 Sundays from May 30 to Sept. 12 with hours of 1-5 p.m., again at the library location.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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