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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Vancouver Farmers Market bounces back, delights locals, tourists

Increase in vendors prompts high attendance after slow pandemic years

By , Columbian staff writer

The Vancouver Farmers Market came roaring back this year, welcoming more vendors than even before the pandemic and welcoming hundreds of thousands of shoppers.

“Everything went pretty well,” said Stephanie Clark, partnerships and programs manager at Vancouver Farmers Market.

The market not only drew in locals but also saw a significant amount of tourism come back.

There were 243 individual businesses at the different markets this year. That’s an 8 percent increase over last year.

The average number of customers per day downtown was 5,307. July 7, meanwhile, saw the highest number of shoppers: 8,977.

Attendance at the market boomed with 331,323 shoppers for the three markets, a 68 percent increase over 2021.

James Dunbar and his wife run the Little Art Boutique. The booth features oil paints, prints, coasters, postcards and hats, scarves and hoodies created by Dunbar’s wife.

“This last season at the farmers market was the best season we’ve had at any market,” Dunbar said. The couple had a booth at the Portland Saturday Market for 12 years, though they got their market start initially at the downtown Vancouver Farmers Market.

“This last year, it’s just been incredible,” he added. October, Dunbar said, saw the largest sales he and his wife had seen at a market at any time in their 15-year career.

Having spent many seasons at the Portland Saturday Market, Dunbar said the couple’s business there was supported largely by tourism. But in Vancouver, customers are often more local.

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“Locals, they support small business and artists more than I’ve ever seen anywhere,” he said.

For 15 years, Kathy Johnson and her Farm Maid Soap have been regulars at the downtown Vancouver Farmers Market. Even when her oldest child was getting married, her Farm Maid Soap booth was still at the market — though she wasn’t manning it, of course.

After the slower pandemic years, business has bounced back, Johnson said. Her opinion — the diversity of goods at the market means there’s something for everybody to enjoy.

“The market has a very dedicated customer base,” she said.

“People were very excited to be able to be back, see their favorite vendors in person and find new items,” said Johnson. “It was a really fantastic atmosphere.”

The market also offers a $40 match for SNAP food assistance. This year, the program distributed $340,000 worth of assistance.

“A lot more people in the community needing food assistance came to the farmers market to get it,” Clark said.

There was a 450 percent increase in assistance at the market since 2019.

“Even though we’re seeing the pandemic simmering down over the last two years, we’re still seeing that need for food,” Clark said.

“The market is becoming the place where people can just get more bang for their buck,” she added.

Dilish Farm, based out of east Vancouver, sells vegetables along with things like herb salts and a guidebook on how to use produce.

This was farm owner Trisha Haggerty’s first year at the downtown market. She never intended to participate in a market, instead opting for a Community Supported Agriculture program. She originally wanted to sell her produce on street corners in low-income neighborhoods. While good in theory, that was difficult in practice, however.

With some urging from a friend who operates another booth at the market, she decided to take a chance. The market offered a set of customers who’d already be there. Now Dilish is in five markets.

“It was the most helpful way to meet more people that are brand new to understanding what my farm does,” Haggerty said.

It’s helped her business in more ways than one. She’s garnered a loyal following and even volunteers to help on the farm.

“It’s paid back in a lot of ways I wouldn’t have expected,” Haggerty said. Not to mention that it’s provided an additional outlet to sell food, and it operates during a farmer’s actual growing season.

The market is operating on Saturdays in November and December for its fall market, allowing its artisan vendors a chance at selling goods for the holiday season.

Before the pandemic, the market did operate an indoor holiday market but that was canceled because of pandemic restrictions. The organization may bring that back in the future, however, due to its popularity.

This Saturday is the last day of the fall market. There will be a kids market, crafts, a photo booth and a holiday donkey petting zoo.

“What a great season it was,” Clark added.