What Makes a Farmers Market a Farmers Market?

When you shop at a farmers market, you see a large grouping of tents that have good, local produce ready for you to purchase. That sounds simple enough, but there is so much more to a farmers market than you may know. It takes planning, volunteer work, and monetary support to keep our local farmers returning week after week.

There are now over 50 local growers and processors that are actively participating in our local Port Susan Farmers Market. They must be in compliance with all local, county, and state regulations and must obtain the proper permits to provide samples or to sell wine. In addition, they must meet certain requirements in order to sell at a
farmers market. The Port Susan Farmers Market follows WSFMA Roots Guidelines in order to meet the consumer’s expectations of a Farmers Market:

  1. A Farmers Market is where a grower/processor can sell directly to the consumer and is most likely the small farmer’s best opportunity to profit from their land and efforts; and
  2. A Farmers Market is a marketplace where consumers can talk directly to the grower/processor, purchase the freshest produce and value-added products possible, and experience the health-giving effects of that freshness.

Volunteers have worked countless hours to make the Market what it is. A steering committee started planning the Market in 2011. That group then became the Board of Directors.  They spent hundreds of hours developing our market:

  • Bylaws
  • Vendor Rules/Guidelines/Policies, Vendor Handbook
  • Vendor Application Forms
  • Blank Vendor Sales Report Form
  • Business or Strategic Plan
  • 501c3

Vendor recruitment and market development have been ongoing for the past three years. Board members and the Market management have talked with vendors and spoken at meetings, including the Stanwood Chamber, the Lions, the Stanwood City Council, and others, to help promote and develop this market. We have volunteers setting up, running, and closing down the Market every week. Our volunteers have helped build not only a Market with a great vendor base but a great audience of shoppers for the Market, as well.

As a farmers market, we have been working for two years with the Snohomish Health District to create a Farmers Market Program for our vendors.  We’ve received assistance from Mayor Dianne White, Mayor Leonard Kelley, and Deborah Knight from the City of Stanwood.  Our manager, Leslie Collins, has attended the legislative session in Olympia in 2013 with the City of Stanwood to discuss the farmers market and our longer term goals of a four-season market.  All this was to lay the groundwork for future funding. Additionally, Leslie attends annual conferences, seminars, trainings, and webinars to help strengthen our market and learn how to better serve our vendors, community and program partners.

This year the market became qualified to receive SNAP/EBT benefits to increase food access for low income folks in our community. This means that the Farmers Market is truly a resource for everyone in our community. This process took months to complete and an investment of time and money to make it work. However, we’re already seeing benefits from it.

Support from the City and local business has been immense. Cash funding and in-kind donations, such as the space for the market, have made it possible to have a market at all. We received grant funding from USDA Farmers Market Promotional Program Grant and NW Farm Credit Services to help with our initial start-up costs. Since we were starting from scratch, expenses were not small. In turn, we’ve been spending money at local businesses for insurance, operating supplies, advertising, and power, to name a few. We also our refer vendors to local businesses for their needs and have helped increase foot traffic to our downtown core business during Market hours.

We spend a lot of time understanding how the market impacts the economic development of the city and surrounding businesses.  This year we will be doing a more in-depth Rapid Market Assessment (RMA) to better understand these impacts. We want to constantly improve operations at the market for better vendor sales, a better customer experience and a greater benefit to all surrounding businesses.

So, you can see that our Port Susan Farmers Market is much more than a collection of tents. It’s people coming together every week to support our local businesses, invest in healthy foods, and create a great community life.

Oso Strong, Oso Compassionate

By now, you’ve heard about the massive mudslide in Oso that took the lives of 43 people on March 22nd. I live just downriver from there. Everyone here knows someone directly affected by this disaster. It’s going to take years for a full recovery, if that’s at all possible. Most of the folks who lost homes, families and…well…everything, still owe mortgages on those properties. The local businesses and farms are also feeling the pinch, with the highway being closed until at least next fall. So many of them rely on the tourist trade during the summer.

The stories I keep hearing of the lengths people went to help their neighbors and friends are amazing. Here are a few:

  • When the slide happened, the river started immediately backing up, flooding the homes and farms of those east of the slide area. One woman knew that her neighbors, whose farm was quickly being inundated, were down in Seattle for the day. So, she got to their farm, jumped on the back of one of the horses, and led the other 6 horses through chest-deep water to safety.
  • My volunteer fire department, Snohomish County FD #19, decided to turn their annual fund raising event into a benefit for the Oso firefighter who lost his wife, granddaughter and home in the slide. They will make up their annual funds some other way.
  • One Search & Rescue professional who worked on the site said that it was the first time in his many years of dealing with disasters, that local volunteers and family members worked right along side him.
  • People used their vacation time to come to Arlington and wash clothes for the volunteers. Students wrote thank you notes and they were included in the clean laundry returned to the search and rescue volunteers.

The list goes on.

If you’d like to help those affected by this tragedy, Snohomish County has a page that lists where you can donate or volunteer.

So many stories…so far behind…

Yes, yes, I know. I’m about 5 or 6 entries behind in posting. I have many topics to cover and can’t get to finishing any of them just yet. Patience, patience…

A lot has happened. I’ve met some great people, encountered some beautiful farms, and dealt with tragedy in my neighborhood. I’ll tell all in the next few posts.

Oh, and there’s this little bit of news about the chaotic FCC plans for net neutrality

A Warning and a Screaming Good Deal

First, a warning: there is a nasty piece of ransomware that lately been attacking unsuspecting computers. It’s the Cryptolocker virus. It attacks your system by encrypting it and then holding your hard drive for ransom. If you get hit with this, there is not a lot you can do to recover the drive. Some sources online suggest that paying the ransom is the only way to get it back. I say no way!

Prevention is your best ally. There are three things you should always do to keep yourself safe online:

  • Make sure you backup your system to a drive not on your computer. A backup service, such as Mozy, can put your backups on autopilot. Backing up to an external hard drive works quite well, too. Both of these are reasonably priced and really beat the loss of all your data. With a backup in place, you can replace your hard drive with a new one, reload your operating system, and restore your data without too much expense, certainly less than paying a ransom.
  • Download the free version of MalwareBytes and have it run scans frequently. This program finds Trojans and other malware on your system and eliminates them before they have a chance to do their evil deeds. Add this program in addition to your anti-virus.
  • Encrypt your system yourself. This protects you from all kinds of nasty things besides just Cryptolocker. Just remember that if you lose your password to unlock your encrypted drive, there is no way to recover it. Make sure you write it down and keep it, and copies of it, available.

Now, here’s the best deal I’ve found in a long time: Republic Wireless has the best prices on cell phone coverage I’ve ever seen. It starts at $10 a month for unlimited calls, text, and data. (I know!) If you want 3G or 4G, the plans are a bit more, as much as $40. (Again, an “I know!” with exclamation points!)

There are, of course restrictions and stipulations. You definitely need to have broadband at home. You have to use their one phone, Motorola’s Moto X, which costs $299 but is a good Android phone. Over the course of two years, which is how you should always price cell plans, you would only pay $240. That’s amazing! That’s what many people pay for just two months of service.

What makes this possible is the software that Republic Wireless has pioneered. It essentially pushes everything, including your calls, through the internet, if it’s available. If it isn’t, then calls, texts, and data go to cell service seamlessly. This plan isn’t for everyone, but for those who have good access to wi-fi, there’s nothing wrong with saving some green.

 

Old Books and New Markets

I’ll admit it, even though I love high tech, I really enjoy buying old books. The other day, I found a copy of the Department of Agriculture Yearbook for 1914 and couldn’t put it down. One section I especially liked listed the large public markets within major U.S. cities and showed interesting pictures of them. Some of them still stand, such as Faneuil Hall in Boston and Seattle’s Pike Street Public Market, due to some dedicated urban renewalists who saw the potential of these buildings. Others, such as the Pearl Street Market in Cinncinnati, were razed during the era of urban flight in the twentieth century. Those markets still standing in major cities have indeed become the hub of urban life. I’m certainly glad that Seattle’s was preserved. I visit there whenever I can.

Another fascinating section of this book were the results of a study conducted on the lives of farm women in 1914. They found that many suffered from, “Loneliness, isolation, and the lack of social and educational opportunities.” Most felt heavily overworked without any recompense, since every drop of money went into the farm. By far, though, the largest complaint was the lack of education. They had no way to learn about better farming practices that would make their lives easier. That’s now changed. Even though we want to learn more about how people farmed in the past, we’re doing it on the internet. As more farmers get broadband, more opportunities are made for them.

Oh, there are a couple of articles from this book that might work for modern small farmers, such as “Apple Sirup and Concentrated Cider” and “Cooperative Marketing”. It’s just so interesting seeing how people thought about things 100 years ago.

We Have a Winner!

A short while ago, I started a contest on new ideas for sustainable entrepreneurship with the award of a book, ECOpreneuring.  I received a great reply from Stephanie at You Grow Food Aquaponics (www.yougrowfood.ca). So, she has won a copy of John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist’s book, ECOpreneuring - Putting Purpose and the Planet before Profit. (It’s one of my favorites.) Congratulations!

Here’s what she said:

We are just in the construction phase of our new aquaponics business: You Grow Food Aquaponics (www.yougrowfood.ca).  We are four professional people who are living in the rural community of Hope BC Canada.  Hope produces no food commercially for local markets, creating a food desert.  We love where we live and we want to eat where we live too!  Aquaponics is the `How` of what we do, and food security and community  development form the `Why`of what we do.  Through tours and education we will connect kids and the community with their food sources.  We aim to be open-sourced and support and encourage others in aquaponic startups.  Most importantly, we want to provide local restaurants and local families with year round, nutritious, locally produced food!

Rudy and Stephanie in front of one of the greenhouses.

So, of course, I had to go see what their aquaponics farm was all about. (Any excuse for a roadtrip…)

Stephanie Hooker and Rudy Kehler took time from their busy schedules to show me how their process worked and what they wanted to accomplish as farmers. Their operation is small but is quickly growing as their proof-of-concept is realized.

They started with a small greenhouse and a 4 by 4 foot tank, topped with a bed of basil. That worked great. Then came two larger greenhouses with fish tanks, one large pump, and trays and trays of little plants. There are a few more tanks to add, but it’s looking extremely promising that soon there will be greens and fish year-round in the town of Hope. Their goal is to provide fresh, local food in a place where food is brought in from other places.

To see how You Grow Food Aquaponics is growing, go to their Facebook Page and Like them, or visit their web page. Oh, and Stephanie, your book is on it’s way.

Hope, British Columbia

When I went to the Mother Earth News Fair, representatives from Hope, British Columbia, were there to introduce folks to their area. I entered their contest for two nights at a B&B in Hope, B.C. and, unbelievably, I won. (I know! How odd.) So, I made a reservation, commandeered The Sister, and we were off.

We stayed at the High Hopes Bed and Breakfast which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is perched above the river valley with amazing views of the mountains. All the rooms are incredibly well appointed, with an additional lounge area for guests. My favorite things about this B&B include:

  • The beds were really comfortable.
  • Our host, Pauline, brought me coffee and a muffin first thing in the morning, even before breakfast. Oh, and the breakfasts are very yummy.
  • The view at night from my balcony (every room has one) was stunning, with dense stars surrounded by a ring of mountains.

Hope is quite a lovely town. It’s on a bend of the Fraser River with a long park along the river and a city block-sized park in the middle of town. It’s surrounded by high mountains, clear lakes, and lots of wilderness. We walked around town and decided to stop at an Indian restaurant we saw, called Sakoon. I was not expecting such good food and I was quite pleasantly surprised at all the rich flavors. I’ll go back…even if it is several hours away from home.

The one thing I was really happy to see was the Hope Cinema, which recently installed a new digital projector, ensuring that they can show first-run films for years to come. It’s huge financial burden to change projectors and they are asking for donations to help defray the costs. So many towns across North America are losing their theaters to this crushing requirement by film distributors that all theaters must have digital projectors or they won’t receive any new films to show. Most small towns can’t support the cost of a new projector ($30,000 to $200,000 per theater) and the owners can’t keep a theater viable without films to show. Most of them are simply closing. We watched Elysium in Hope Cinema’s surprisingly large space. (It holds 320 people.) It was a great experience.

We then went to the Blue Moose Coffee House and had a nice cup of chai. Mmmm…yummy!

I love taking road trips. I’ve driven all over North America in my lifetime, meeting new people and experiencing the countryside. As, I was touring the Fraser River Valley, visiting farms and taking in the sites. I was quite impressed with the amount of land that was under cultivation in the river valley and the updated farm equipment and buildings I saw everywhere. There weren’t any abandoned farms. There weren’t any barns falling down or fields untended. The local farming community was well supported and farmers markets and agri-tourism were everywhere.

As I drove back across the border, into the U.S., the change was quite evident. More farmers here are struggling. More farms lay fallow, with fields turning back to a scruffy kind of wildness. It’s harder to find farm tours or to buy directly from a farm unless you know where to look. A collapsing barn is more the standard than the exception. Even in Skagit Valley, where the emphasis is strongly on agriculture, there are farms around every corner of Highway 9 that lay fallow.

Perhaps it’s because Canada didn’t suffer the recession we did here, or maybe it’s the Canadian government’s emphasis on agriculture that has made the difference. Maybe the University of British Columbia’s Land and Food System programs, including dairy, viniculture, and permaculture, are making the difference. Perhaps it’s all of these things together.

No matter what programs are in place, it’s ultimately up to us to determine how we want our food grown and consumed. Compared to the mighty Fraser River, the Stillaguamish may be small. However, it’s our corner of the world and we determine how we move forward here. Taking steps, such as the Port Susan Farmers Market is a good start. It is only a start, though, with much left to do.

Our farmers are retiring and we need young farmers, well trained ones at that, to take their place. How do we attract them? How do we get existing farmers to stay on the land and get new farmers to move here? We do it through vibrant local and regional markets, through vital support systems, and through our strong appreciation of what they bring to our community. We can provide the economic basis for a lasting farming community if it’s within our willpower to do so. Ultimately, it’s really up to us.

The Last Farm

Hong Kong is losing it’s last farms and there is concern among its citizens. The city is running out of housing and the only lands left are the very last farms. Since the series of scandals uncovering food contamination from mainland China, however, people are leery of having all of their food coming from there. This is the situation: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2013/0817/Hong-Kong-weighs-the-importance-of-its-last-farms