Market renews focus on farms

New strategy puts emphasis on locally grown products

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

Published:

 

If you go

• What: Vancouver Farmers Market

• When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays, beginning March 20.

• Where: Esther and Sixth streets.

• Information: http://www.vancouverfarmersmarket.com.

When the Vancouver Farmers Market opens Saturday, it will still be too early for much produce other than such cold storage items as potatoes and apples. But you can look for the produce offerings to become more robust as the season progresses — perhaps even more so than in past years.

That’s because the Vancouver Farmers Market is working to put the farm back into the market.

“There’s going to be a big push to take it more and more local,” said Jordan Boldt, the market’s new part-time manager. He ran the Washougal market last year.

The Vancouver market, which will turn 20 this year, is refocusing. In addition to a hiring a new manager, the market’s board of directors adopted new rules intended to expand the selection of produce and other farm products.

While the array of artisan and food vendors has remained robust, the number of farmers at the market dipped to 40 in 2007, down from 80 the previous year, said Debbie Whitman, president of the board of directors.

Whitman, whose Twisted Biscuit Pet Co. sells doggie treats, called former vendors to find out what would make the market more farm-friendly. The answer: tighter rules, not looser ones.

The market used to require vendors to grow 51 percent of what they sold. That increased to 60 percent last year, and the market had almost 100 farms signed up. This year, agricultural vendors must grow 75 percent of what they sell. They also must also obtain approval to supply items from other farms at their booths.

The goal is to prevent vendors from stocking their booths with warehouse produce that undercuts local farms, Whitman said.

“It’s especially hard for Clark County farmers because they don’t have as much land to farm,” Whitman said.

In Clark County, total farm acreage has grown 11 percent, from 70,694 acres in 2002 to 78,359 acres in 2007, but the size of the farms has shrunk. The average Clark County farm now is 37 acres, down 16 percent from 44 acres in 2002, according to the most recent USDA census.

New vendors

On opening day, the market will have 60 vendors. Fifteen of those will be agricultural booths, Whitman said.

Later in the season, some new agricultural vendors will show up, including Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese of Doty, Deep Water Seafoods from Seaside, Ore., and Aichele Farms-Desert Sweet Berries from Stanfield, Ore.

Customers will find maps to help them navigate the market, given that the lineup of vendors changes from weekend to weekend. A portable kitchen will enable demonstrations on how to make dishes with the wider range of items expected at the market this year.

For example, Reister Farms of Washougal sells lamb and will add eggs this season — probably starting in April.

The farm’s Rachel Reister also serves on the farmers market’s board of directors. She said she’s excited about all the changes.

“We’re really trying to put a community focus on the market,” she said, “and make it educational for the community as well as entertaining and delicious.”