OLYMPIA - The Olympia Farmers Market opens at 10 a.m. today, marking the unofficial start of spring in South Sound despite the cool, wet weather.
One of the capital city’s top draws, the market attracts some 500,000 visitors during its nine-month run and generates about $5 million in sales, according to market manager Charlie Haney.
This year, some 119 vendors will ply their wares at the north end of Capitol Way, Thursday through Sunday, selling a range of items including hanging flower baskets, handmade jewelry and fresh seafood.
“I always look forward to seeing the flowers and plants for the garden,” said Olympia-area real estate agent Nancy Connor of City Realty. “And when I’m showing people the area, the market is always on the tour.”
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From its beginnings in 1973, the Olympia market has grown into one of the biggest in the state and is a popular place to gather with friends and guests from out of town to shop, eat lunch or listen to live music performed on the covered stage.
As is typical, the market will be a little light on fresh-grown produce for the first few weeks, other than hardy crops that overwinter in the ground or those planted in a greenhouse or hoop house.
This spring’s cold, wet weather, a mirror image of the beginning of 2010, has South Sound commercial farmers who sell at the market waiting eagerly for warmer, drier conditions.
“We’re two weeks behind schedule in preparing our fields for planting because of the wet spring,” said Genine Bradwin, co-owner of Kirsop Farm south of Tumwater and a market mainstay.
A fixture at the market since 1993, Becky Holt of Delphi Valley Greenhouse was there Wednesday, anchoring the west end of the vendor isles with her colorful array of annual plants and hanging baskets.
“It’s a little early to set things out,” she said. “But sales will gradually pick up; May is my biggest month.”
Competition for a vendor stall can be fierce. Rhonda and David Rider, owners of Blue Rose Dairy in Winlock, are full-time vendors this year after two years with part-time slots. They sell specialty cheeses from the milk produced by their goat herd, some 85 strong.
“Our ultimate goal is to sell to restaurants, and all the local chefs shop at the market,” Rhonda Rider said. As for the cold spring, her goats don’t mind.
“They love the green grass all fresh and growing,” she said.
Another of the six newcomers this year to the market is Christian Kaelin, owner of Provisions Mushroom Farm on Waddell Creek Road.
“Mushrooms love the moisture, but the cold temperatures slow their growth,” he said, adding he’ll have a few mushroom species and do-it-yourself grower kits for sale starting today.
“We tried to get into the market last year, but it was full,” he said. “We’re excited; this will definitely be good exposure for our business.”
Market patrons will be missing Amando Hidalgo, proprietor of Tierra Bonita, where he produced his unique and popular garlic sauces and salsa. He died March 19 following a long illness.
Hidalgo personified a trait familiar among market vendors: He loved to talk to friends and strangers alike about his culinary creations, not just sell them.
“He had quite a following,” Haney said.
A potluck meal and celebration of Hidalgo’s life is set for 11 a.m. Monday around the Olympia Farmers Market stage.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org
Solar on the way
Solar power is coming to the Olympia Farmers Market this summer.
A dozen market vendors and customers are investing in a nearly $300,000 solar power system that will be mounted on the market roof, capable of producing 30 percent to 50 percent of the market’s electricity needs, said Steve Wilcox, a seafood vendor at the market and managing member of the Farmers Market Community Solar Project LLC.
Sunset Air will do the solar system installation, which includes 192 solar panels manufactured in the state, about June 1, Wilcox said.
“It’s the next phase in the greening of the market,” Wilcox said, noting that the market already has embraced a program to recycle food waste and other recyclables generated at the market.
When the market is not in operation, the market will be credited on its Puget Sound Energy power bill for the kilowatts generated.
The group is taking advantage of state legislation passed in 2005 and amended in 2009 and 2010 that allows renewable-energy projects owned by limited liability corporations and located on local government property.
Investors in the LLC are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit on their contribution to the project, as well as other green-energy tax incentives managed by the state Department of Revenue of up to $5,000 per year for each ownership share through 2020.
Wilcox said the investors expect a return on their investment of about 8 percent.