The Vancouver Farmers Market closed a strong 26th season last weekend as good weather overall brought out large crowds and a new east Vancouver market provided another outlet for fresh fruits and vegetables.
But the year was not without challenges, as the warm weather created unusual difficulties for farmers, some of whom simply had nothing left to sell at the end of the normal growing season.
“Some vendors had reduced yields and a shorter growing season,” said Jordan Boldt, the market’s executive director. “They had to drop off early.”
In particular, he said, the season for fresh berries was unusually short and frustrating for berry lovers.
The Harvest Market on Nov. 21 on Esther Street between Sixth and Eighth streets and the Holiday Market on Nov. 28-29 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington are still to come, but this weekend will be the first since March without the regular weekly market.
Boldt said he’s found that the fall closure of the market brings a lull to the downtown area. Tourism officials and downtown visitors frequently cite the Farmers Market as one of the downtown’s strongest attractions.
All told, this year’s market drew some 600,000 attendees, around the usual number for a good market year, Boldt said. The market attracted 175 vendors; on an average weekend, about 120 of those vendors would be on hand, Boldt said. About 40 percent of market vendors offered garden-fresh fruits and vegetables while others served food for eating on the spot, as well as food products, flowers, and other local arts and products.
“All in all, it was a really good year,” Boldt said.
The new east Vancouver market at the Columbia Tech Center was launched in mid-July and ran through September. With about 15 vendors and none of the festive activities that are part of the downtown market, the east Vancouver market served an important niche as a shopping destination for local residents, Boldt said.
Boldt and market manager Erin Timmerman, both with business backgrounds, are working steadily to help vendors in developing business skills that they can use at the market and in other venues. In an interview Wednesday at the Slocum House in Esther Short Park, where the market has its offices, Boldt said they view the market as a small-business incubator with 175 micro-businesses and see an opportunity for the market to help them through business-related classes and activities. “We want to refocus from a fun weekend event to a year-round incubator,” he said.
Boldt and Timmerman say they also want to increase the number of vendors from farms in Southwest Washington and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The challenge in attracting growers from Oregon is that they have opportunities to sell at dozens of other markets in the Portland metro area that are closer to home. And increasingly, those farmers have opportunities to sell their produce and vegetables through Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, programs or buying co-ops.
“Its never been easier for farmers to get their products to market,” Boldt said.