By the time last year’s farmers’ market wrapped up a 10-week experimental season, it became clear that Philomath could indeed support such a venture. Called a pilot project by its organizers, the market’s sustainability wasn’t exactly a slam dunk with the knowledge that other attempts over the years had all failed.
Mark McGuire, president of Bountiful Backyard, the nonprofit organization that oversees the farmers’ market, said that not only did last year’s run succeed, but the operation has expanded to a full 16-week season. The Sunday markets have even added on an extra hour and hired a manager.
“We knew we wanted to expand based on pressure from our vendors in 2020,” McGuire said. “We actually started with six weeks last year and based on interest from vendors, we increased it to 10 and then we were still getting calls from a couple of vendors to increase it further. So we knew we wanted to go beyond 10.”
Vendor feedback serves as a major source of data for the farmers’ market’s health.
“The fact that vendors were calling for it (expansion) is a good indicator that we were getting sufficient customers,” McGuire said. “Because if the vendors are happy, then the market is going to be healthy. It means they’re getting customers … that’s a real driving factor.”
The 16-week farmers’ market season opens Sunday with hours running from 1-5 p.m., in the Philomath Community Library parking lot.
“We hired a market manager, so we’re not purely volunteer-run anymore,” McGuire said. “We have a few volunteers but most of the work will be done by Janel (Lajoie). She’s a wonderful addition and we are extremely excited to have her.”
Lajoie will not be new to the Philomath Farmers’ Market.
“Janel had been a vendor at last year’s farmers’ market,” McGuire said. “Her and her husband run Pioneer Gardens, so she was already familiar with the market and how it worked and what she might expect as the market manager.”
APPROVED VENDORS Ann Batten (stepping stones) County Line Flowers Dragon Breath Dip/Spread Earthy Little Scents Grateful Harvest Urban Farm Hiatt Farm Jason’s Tropical Sno Jensen & Nicky Taueu (Hawaiian art) Junebug Jewelry House and L&H Design Kostelaz Creations Overgrow Farm Patricia Wagner (art) Pioneer Gardens Queen Bee Honey Company Rain Forest Mushrooms Sweet Shire Farm Territorial Road Orchard Veun’s Garden Windy Hill Farm
Note: Approved vendor list as of May 24; organizers expect the vendor lineup to grow and change throughout the market season.
The committee that weighs in on the operation believed 16 weeks was a good, round number and offers various benefits.
“It’s a nice span from early to late summer so you get the late spring crops and some of the early fall crops like gourds and pumpkins and that sort of thing,” McGuire said.
Families and individuals that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will be able to shop at the market.
“Janel’s working on integrating SNAP and some other programs so that folks can have a little bit of an easier time shopping at the market if they’re low income,” McGuire said.
The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food vouchers and Oregon Farm Direct Nutrition Program (FDNP) coupons will also be accepted.
Another program on the horizon involves the integration of a CSA program. An acronym for “community supported agriculture,” the program will be known as Philomath Harvest Basket.
“CSA is a system where customers pay a farmer up front for shares of his produce throughout the growing and harvest season,” McGuire explained. “They typically get a discounted rate, so there’s incentive to do that as opposed to just shop weekly or monthly or however you do your groceries. In return, the customer assumes some of the farmer’s risk. It’s kind of understood that you’re part of a community and if things grow well, you benefit from that and if they don’t, you suffer a little bit.”
McGuire said Bountiful Backyard has combined multiple producers into a single CSA.
“Not all farmers have the capacity to run their own CSA, especially real small producers, so part of what we were doing through our nonprofit, Bountiful Backyard, was to provide a platform where multiple farmers could come together … act as one big farmer and have their own CSA.”
Vendors participating in the CSA will also be among those also selling at the market.
The Philomath Harvest Basket program will be available during the final six weeks of the market, McGuire said, with members receiving baskets of goods at a discounted rate.
“We’re going to gear up into it and start the market, just letting Janel get her bearings, and reintroduce the community to the market,” McGuire said. “I think a lot of people are pretty new to it still. And then we will also leverage those first 10 weeks to advertise and solicit customers to start working the Harvest Basket later in the summer.”
As for vendors, the farmers’ market has a capacity of up to 20, which includes space that’s provided for community organizations that are not necessarily selling anything or paying into the market, McGuire said.
McGuire said the pilot project in 2020 provided plenty of insight about the ins and outs of running a summer market.
“We learned about what to expect when it comes to vendor applications. By that, I mean the types of vendors we’ll expect will apply and when they might apply,” McGuire said. “And just getting our bearings, understanding the permitting process for getting signage, understanding how much things cost, how much we can expect to make. It was a great icebreaker and that’s why we called it a pilot project last year.”
The market returns to the library parking lot to provide plenty of visibility — at least on the Applegate Street side of the couplet.
“I’m very comfortable there; we’re very fortunate to be working with the library,” McGuire said. “They’ve been gracious enough to share their bathroom last year and as things reopen, we’re hoping they’ll share again. The library parking lot is right there by Marys River Park and the highway — it’s just a great location.”
For more information, visit philomathfarmersmarket.org.
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