2014 plans for farmers market create more questions

OlympianDecember 17, 2013 

During the Nov. 19th production run at Shepherd's Soap Co. Christian MacMillan cuts individual soap bars while Dianne Agee and owner Deb Petersen(right) work on other project.A standing vendor with the Olympia Farmers Market the Shelton-area business will take part when the market becomes a year-round operation, opening on Saturdays during January, February and March.

FILE PHOTO

The Olympia Farmers Market, a treasured community asset enjoyed by South Sound residents and visitors alike, ventures into new territory in 2014 with the decision to stay open on Saturdays all year.

On the surface, it seems like a logical extension for a farmers market that connects local farmers to customers in a social, festive atmosphere at the north end of Olympia’s main thoroughfare, Capitol Way.

The market, which traditionally has been open only

April through December, plays host to about 250,000 visitors per year, with some 200 vendors sharing access to 80 market stalls. Vendor revenues exceed $5 million per year, but those revenues have remained relatively flat in recent years, noted a recent Olympia Farmers Market study commissioned by the city of Olympia, which owns the market building, and the Port of Olympia, which owns the land and parking.

The expanded market season is both an opportunity to increase revenues and a step into an uncertain future. If the farmers market plans to be open in the winter months, can it get by with an open-air building? What locally grown fresh produce can consumers expect in the winter months? Do those carrots and cucumbers sold fresh in the summer need to be processed and pickled? Is there enough hoop house and greenhouse capacity in South Sound to support expanded winter hours at the market?

The consultant’s report looks at the market’s many options as it moves forward. While the market is touted for its operating plan — other markets around the state and region seek its counsel — it wouldn’t hurt to have a long-range strategic plan, too.

The Olympia Farmers Market is the only wholly vendor-owned and operated market in the state. It’s an organizational model that has served the market well. But would it be the best option if the market expands its operating hours or embarks on major capital improvement projects to provide for an enclosed market or a food storage building so vendors don’t have to pack and unpack their produce every market day? Is it the best form of governance if the market ramps up its social media marketing or extends its hours of operation to include evening shopping, dining and entertainment?

Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum has suggested, and it’s an idea with merit, that 2014 be the year that the Olympia Farmers Market teams with a variety of community partners to craft a strategic business plan. And out of that business plan could emerge a new governance structure that could take a variety of forms, everything from a stand-alone, independently owned market to one that is owned and managed as a public corporation sponsored by the city.

The business plan should remain true to the Olympia Farmers Market mission, which is: “Promote and encourage the development of local small-scale agriculture and ensure a dynamic market balance for small, local growers and others to make available their products to residents of the community.”

And, as the consultant report suggests, the issue of governance would be best based on a long-term vision for the market, rather than in response to some sort of future funding crisis.

The Olympia Farmers Market has come a long way from its infancy in 1975. It’s matured greatly since the move to the port property in 1996. Let 2014 be the year the market takes a creative, sustainable step into the future.

 

OYSTERS GO TO MARKET

 

Award-winning oysters from the Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm north of Lacey now are available for sale from 1:30-5 p.m. Thursdays at the George & Sons produce stand at the corner of Lilly and Stoll roads.

The Henderson Inlet oysters, which grow free of harvest restrictions because of the hard work of many to improve water quality in the lower inlet, recently won the “Most Beautiful Oyster” contest during the Oyster New Year celebration at Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle.

 

HISTORY GROUPS MERGE

 

Olympia’s two mainstay historical groups — the Olympia Historical Society and the Bigelow House Preservation Association — have a lot in common and share a lot of the same members. So it made perfect sense last Saturday when the board of directors for the two nonprofits voted to merge into one organization with the somewhat predictable name of Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum.

The new organization still has a lot of wrinkles to iron out, but expects to set the dues structure for its members at its first combined board meeting Jan. 9. Prospective members can keep tabs on the new group’s activities at the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum Facebook page at tinyurl.com/OHSBHM.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@thelympian.com

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