Farmers market ends productive year

Efforts to connect with customers draw more vendors

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoPatty Phillips, owner of Patty’s Kettle Corn, was in the Halloween spirit in her popcorn outfit Sunday.

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Special market events

Thanksgiving Market: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 19 at the regular site on Esther Street.

Holiday Market: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington

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Vancouver Farmers Market

More than two decades old, the Vancouver Farmers Market keeps looking for new ways to connect with customers.

Take wine, for instance. Tastings began this year and were a worthy addition, said Jordan Boldt, the market’s enthusiastic executive director.

The market concluded its 22nd regular season on Sunday and Boldt said the year was a good one.

A change in state law allowed wine and beer tasting, and two vintners took to the market in September.

“I was the first one at the farmers market to do actual tastings,” said Gary Gouger (pronounced Goo-jay) of Gouger Cellars at 19th and Washington streets in Vancouver. “It was a huge success.”

Boldt agreed, saying wine tasting brought a new dimension to the market, which is at the west edge of Esther Short Park. Klickitat Canyon Winery also offered tastings.

“We’re a small winery, I’m growing as fast as I can,” Gouger said. He will produce 20 tons of grapes this year at his business, which is just 860 square feet.

He also works part-time as a pharmacist.

For $5, Gouger offered three tastings and a wine glass. By law, the grapes must be grown in Washington state. He offered Viognier, a white, Sparkling Rose, and Muscat Ottonel, also a white. All grapes were grown in the Yakima region.

“The people came in ... and I got to talk to them about wines and they had questions about wines. ... I loved it,” Gouger said of his market experience. And then “sales (at the wine shop) just skyrocketed.”

Boldt said having the market open doors to vendors is an exciting thing.

He stopped at Edward Geisler’s booth and noted CGI Orchard of Hazel Dell sells heritage apples. “This is going to set us apart from the grocery store,” Boldt said of Geisler’s apples. “It’s something that people can’t get anywhere else.”

Geisler, a former clothing company representative, said he farms 10 acres in Hazel Dell and this was his first year at the market. His banner proclaims, “Great taste from around the world.”

He said the apples he grows are from trees originally from Germany (Pinova), Japan, (Beni Shogun), Holland (Belle Du Boskoop) and England (Ellison’s Orange).

“People are excited about these types of apples,” he said.

Rainy last day

Although weather hurt attendance on many Saturdays and Sundays, Boldt said the market had 13 more vendors this year than last, a total of 183. He said attendance was about the same as 2010.

The Aug. 6 weekend brought 130 vendors who used 168 of the 175 available spaces. He said as many as 15,000 people showed up on some Saturdays.

On Sunday, Jason Goff and friend Genni Hutchinson bought flowers for family members at the rainy market.

“I come down for flowers all the time,” Hutchinson said. She said all the flowers for the wedding of her sister, Shawna Hutchinson, on June 17 were bought at the market and taken to The Academy for the ceremony. “Really good deal. A few hundred dollars and it took care of the whole wedding.” Hutchinson said.

Patty Phillips of Patty’s Kettle Corn said she’s been coming to the market for eight years. Her home is in Castle Rock.

“It’s a great market,” Phillips said, noting she came to all 38 weekends in 2011. On Sunday, she wore a popcorn bag outfit. Her husband, Robert Phillips, was in a salt shaker get-up.

Nearby, Joni Johnson of Portland and her daughter, Dreonna Johnson, 17, bought apples from Alex Farms of Wapato in central Washington.

The mother and daughter live in the Mount Tabor neighborhood. Why come to Vancouver? “We just like it. I think it’s very quaint,” Joni said.

She said she visited the market about six times this year. Asked if she would be back in 2012, she said, “Oh, yeah.”