(Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian)
If you go
What: Vancouver Farmers Market, Southwest Washington’s largest farmers market, with 250 vendors selling produce, flowers, plants, baked goods, food, pet treats and craft items.
Where: Sixth and Esther streets, along Esther Short Park.
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, March 16 through Oct. 27.
Information: Vancouver Farmers Market
Forget about the groundhog or the astronomical start of the season -- in this town, the official start of spring is the annual opening of the Vancouver Farmers Market.
This weekend, about 100 of the market’s rotating selection of 250 vendors will line up along Sixth and Esther streets downtown to welcome the end of winter by hawking a mix of produce, crafts, flowers, baked goods and other items.
And even though the growing season is just starting, you can still expect to find a good variety of fruits and vegetables as the market starts its 24th year, said Executive Director Jordan Boldt.
“Visitors will see a little bit of holdover fruit, like apples, which store really well,” Boldt said. “You’ll also see root vegetables, hearty greens, kale, beets, and we have a couple greenhouse farmers, so you’ll also see some tomatoes, some lettuce.”
Some new additions to the market will be at least one more coffee roaster and a healthy food stand from Mighty Bowl. But highest on Boldt’s wish list is to draw more milk, egg and cheese vendors, he said.
“What do we need? Dairy, dairy, dairy, dairy,” Boldt said. “A lot of the local cheese makers end up going to Portland, because it’s cheaper (with permitting fees) to sell there. But that said, we really want them to come here.”
The market wants them so much that it will assist dairy vendors with no-interest loans to pay permitting fees and help them get set up, Boldt added.
“I haven’t gotten any takers yet, but we’ve got a few on the line,” he said.
Little Farms has been selling goat milk periodically at the market for the past few years. It’s always in high demand, said Renee Cote-Kreinbring, co-owner.
“It sells really fast,” Cote-Kreinbring said. “We’re planning on making some goat cheese this season, too. We’re playing with it right now. We’ll probably do some ricotta and feta.”
First-year permits to Clark County and the federal government cost more than $650 to sell at the market. After the initial fees, it drops down to a bit less than $300 a year, Cote-Kreinbring said.
“The permits are expensive all the way around,” she said. “More expensive than they are in Portland. For us, the first year was a little tough; but since then, it’s been OK.”
Still, there’s certainly room for more dairy vendors at the market, Cote-Kreinbring said.
“It would be great to have a cheese vendor,” Cote-Kreinbring said. “I know customers would really like to see raw milk as well.”
Also on Boldt’s wish list is to bring in more small farmers from Southwest Washington. Local farmers sometimes have a hard time growing enough produce for the market, especially when they also have deals to sell to area restaurants and other venues, he said.
“We are doing everything we can to attract local farmers, which has actually been a bit of a struggle,” Boldt said. “Our goal this year is to add five local farms to the market, but we’re not there yet.”
All the farms at the market are regional. There are several Oregon vendors that come to the Vancouver Farmers Market, but Boldt said he’d also like to see more growers from Clark and Cowlitz counties.
Last year, the market drew more than 360,000 visitors, about a 40 percent increase over 2011. And this year looks like it will be similarly successful, Boldt said.
“It looks like a really nice spring and summer coming,” Boldt said. “There’s even been some talk of extending the market later into the fall this year. If we get enough vendors who are interested in that, we’d love to help them be successful.”
Cote-Kreinbring said she’s more than ready for the new season to begin.
“I’m really excited about the market,” she said. “We had a really good year last year and we’re looking forward to that again.”