Farmers market still growing after 25 years

Downtown Vancouver event will celebrate its silver anniversary in August

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: Vancouver Farmers Market 25th season

Where: Along Sixth and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver.

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Information: vancouverfarmersmarket.com or 360-737-8298.

However you count it, the 25th anniversary celebration at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market will only happen once.

That may sound redundant, but there actually is a quirky calendar issue in play. This is the 25th season since the first market was held on August 18, 1990. But the 25th year of the market will be in 2015.

Confusing? Maybe a little, but don’t worry. If you enjoy multiples of the number five, this is your time, said director Jordan Boldt.

“This is the 25th anniversary celebration — there won’t be another one next year,” he said with a laugh. “That would be too much work.”

About 10,000 people showed up for this season’s opening weekend on March 15 and 16, but a lot more will come as spring progresses and more fruits and vegetables become available, Boldt said.

At the first market in 1990, “hundreds of visitors” turned up at the corner of East Fifth Street and Broadway — the market’s old home — to get their pick of produce, edible flowers, plant starts and crafted items, according to a story in The Columbian.

It ran on Saturdays only that first year, continuing through Oct. 27.

“I think we had 31 vendors on opening day, and about 12,000 people came,” said Madeline Dulemba, one of the market’s founders. “There were wall-to-wall people, it was incredible.”

The market was created by a group of local growers led by Mike Posey and Dulemba, who isn’t a grower but was more of a longtime fan of farmers markets, she said.

The city of Vancouver gave the group a $10,000 grant to kick it off, and it, the Vancouver Downtown Association and Clark Public Utilities have continued to be major supporters through the years, said Dulemba, who served as the group’s president for several years.

“We were convinced that our community needed its own thing that wasn’t associated with Portland,” Dulemba said. “The market, given Clark County’s agricultural history, was a logical choice.”

The market has grown significantly since those first days.

There were more than 75 vendors on opening weekend this year, and when the season really gets going in the summer, there should be about 150 of them, Boldt said.

And the variety of items also grows each year.

“It’s just grown and grown and grown,” Dulemba said. “We used to have one or two varieties of tomatoes. Now we probably have 20 varieties, with two-thirds of that certified organic.”

The other third is likely also organic, but certification is costly and some farmers don’t do it, she said.

In 2000, the market moved from its old spot to Esther Street, next to the newly remodeled Esther Short Park.

“We knew we wanted to be in a bigger location because we had outgrown Fifth and Broadway,” Dulemba said. “We needed more space, more water and power, more traffic circulation. We looked at 13 locations in and around downtown Vancouver and that spot ended up being perfect.”

Among the more unusual things the market has always offered are crafts including artwork and handmade goods.

“When we opened — it was before foodies had been invented,” Dulemba said. “There wasn’t a lot of specialty agriculture. The crafts were a way to draw people in who wouldn’t come out for 14 varieties of lettuce.”

Over the years, the market has added more farms, more products and more prepared foods to its lineup. And there are a few new things to check out this year, as well, Boldt said.

“We’ve added a kombucha vendor, a granola vendor, we’ve got a couple new gluten-free vendors here now,” Boldt said. “We’re also always looking for other interesting agricultural products to make a more well-rounded experience for our customers.”

Another new item is a homemade chorizo sausage, and another vender may bring fresh fish this summer, although the details haven’t been worked out yet, Boldt said.

“That’s our goal,” he said. “We also have two foragers. They do mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, nettles. There’s a lot to see.”

The market will also have some special 25th anniversary festivities this summer, including a harvest dinner in August or September focused on local agriculture, Boldt said.

“We haven’t set up all the details yet,” he said. “We’ll probably have it at one of our local farms. We also want to do something in the park, but because the park is so busy, it’s a little hard to find space.”

And while there are lots of new things to explore, there are also some market mainstays that continue every year. Some of the vendors have been around for more than 20 years, and Dulemba said she looks forward to checking in with them each season.

“It’s great to see all those familiar faces,” Dulemba said. “And personally, I always look forward to the first strawberries, the smell is wonderful. And tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes — I love the tomatoes.”