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.


I’m so excited to have our Port Susan Farmers Market opening once again this summer. I really enjoy seeing all my neighbors and friends buying locally-produced foods from all my other neighbors and friends. In fact, I usually see more local people in one trip to the farmers market than I see the whole rest of the year. It makes me feel like I’m participating in the community.

The most tangible benefits of the farmers market are financial. It’s good for the producers but it’s great for businesses that are nearby. According to a report by a Cooperative Extension in Virginia:

“Increasing direct connections with producers and consumers is a sound, asset-based social and economic development strategy for rural and urban communities. From an economic perspective, encouraging the buying and consumption of local foods can have a positive impact on the local economy by recirculating and reinvesting dollars in local, independently owned businesses.”

When local producers sell at the farmers market, the whole community benefits. Local retail businesses reap the rewards of increased foot traffic, farmers retain more of the dollars they earn, and the social interaction created by visiting a farmers market increases everyone’s well being. Last year, I heard so many people comment, “I didn’t even know this was here”, when they stopped to see what the market was all about. This year, they’ll know to come back.

The market gives us the chance to get out of our workplaces, to park our cars, and to enjoy downtown Stanwood on a lovely Friday afternoon in the summer. The Port Susan Farmers Market opens July 5th. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

The Power of Community

More and more frequently, I’m seeing articles and studies detailing the consequences of our current, conventional approach to producing and consuming food in this country. Life spans are trending downward and chronic conditions are trending up. People are getting sicker at a younger age. Even the military is now sounding the alarm, as they are turning away potential recruits due to obesity and lifestyle diseases.

And these are our young people!

How do we begin to turn this around? How can we ensure that the food we eat is good for us? How will we be able to guarantee that next year, and the year after, we can still buy food that’s nutritious and free of chemicals or anti-biotic resistant diseases? We go to the source, and that source is the farmer.

We are blessed to be living in an area that has maintained a rich farming tradition when so many other regions have lost their farms and farmers. We’ve seen a lot of changes and had to adapt to them to keep our rich fields under cultivation. It hasn’t been easy. Now, we have an opportunity to support our farmers directly, through the Port Susan Farmers Market. It’s a testament to all the people involved that the market was such a success this season.

So, why am I on my soapbox? During the off season, you may see information about funding initiatives the market board will undertake for next year’s market. These are crucial to ensure that the market returns with the same vigor it had this year. Please help.

I fully believe that a local, community-based farmers market is the smartest way to ensure good health in ourselves and in our children. To make the market a permanent fixture, year after year, it takes the power of the community. That’s you. That’s me. That’s everyone.

(Oh, and if you aren’t in my Stillaguamish area, support your local farmers market. It’s good for you!)

A Sense of Place

Michael Ward’s Produce Stand

Every Sunday night, I take the garbage can to the end of the drive for pick up on Monday.  A couple of weeks ago, someone hit it with their car and cut it open.  That person stopped to make sure it was intact and standing for the garbage truck, which was very nice.  However, I still needed to buy a new can to replace the broken one.  When I got back from work later that afternoon, I stopped to pick up the old, empty can to take it back to the house. Amazingly, the person who hit my can bought me a brand new one and left it at the end of my drive. I think I stood there for a full minute, completely shocked.

I’ve never lived in a place where things like this happen. It’s such an antithesis to all the bad news we hear every day. People in the community are looking out for each other. There’s no doubt, I love living here.

A sense of community is one thing that makes a place livable. When Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life, spoke at the Slow Food Roots Music Festival, she said that when she bought her food from farmers within 10 miles of her home, it gave her, for the first time, a sense of place.  I often overhear people at the farmers market asking vendors where they are located, associating the place with the food.

Strawflowers Outstanding in Their Field

Knowing my farmers and buying my food from them connects me to my neighbors.  When I drive past those open fields on my way to and from work, I know who is growing crops, who is planting trees, and who is raising livestock there. The names of the farms are part of my neighborhood description and I point them out to visitors every chance I get.

The Farmers Market does more than acquaint me with my farmers. It becomes a forum where our community gathers, talks, and laughs together. I connect with those that I would otherwise rarely see. The market makes me break from my work-a-day world and reconnect with my community. I learn about upcoming events, find local books freshly published, and listen to local musicians as I shop. Stores in the vicinity reap the benefits of the greater mass of shoppers, while farmers find more outlets for their produce. In many towns, the farmers market has become a centralizing energy, an attracting force that helps to create a more livable and walk-able central core.

The Port Susan Farmers Market is about more than just buying food. It’s about experiencing the best of our community.

Celebrating a New Farmers Market

Today marked the much anticipated opening of the Port Susan Farmers Market, our spot for showcasing the produce, flowers, honey, meats, milk, and nursery plants our local farmers have cultivated. It was well attended, with one booth selling out within the first hour. It’s now possible for me to do a full week’s organic and local grocery shopping in one place, while visiting with my neighbors, friends, and farmers.

Port Susan Farmers Market Opening Ceremony

It took a great deal of work to bring this, (and you’ll excuse the pun), to fruition. Slow Food Port Susan, the city of Stanwood, the Food and Farming Center, and local businesses all pitched in to make this market possible. It would not have happened without Leslie Collins, the market manager. She, along with numerous volunteers, worked diligently to coordinate vendors, find a suitable venue, create and disseminate marketing materials, ensure proper permits, and even paint a huge mural for the market backdrop.

The market’s mural created by the Stanwood-Camano Arts Guild.

The mural signifies, more than almost anything else, that the market is going to be a fixture in our community for more than just this year. I believe that the market is an important step in making our town sustainable and creating that sense of community so crucial to a vibrant, healthy place to live. As the Stanwood-Camano Island area grows in population, it’s important to guide how we want the community to look in the coming years.

Nancy Chase shows off the plants and produce from Shambala Farm.

Of course, I picked up some great food, too. Balanced System Farm had whole, organic, free-range, heirloom chickens for sale. I picked up some beets and beet greens, along with a huge bunch of carrots from Freshly Doug Vegetables. Cat’s Paw Honey had their delightfully hand-painted jars of honey on display, while Old Silvana Creamery sold milk from their Guernsey cows. Shambala Farms displayed not only produce, but many of the plants used in the type of permaculture in which they excel.

Vivian Henderson, with Slow Food Port Susan, had information on the Slow Food Roots Music Festival happening in Stanwood, Aug 25-26.

Another critical aspect of the market is introducing folks to the local farms and the events they are hosting during the rest of the summer. What a fantastic way to bring people who are already interested in fresh, healthy foods out to the farms that produce them? Besides strengthening our community, these farm events teach kids where food comes from. I think that’s fairly important.

Farmers Markets have been welcomed in many towns. Some critics, however, say they cater to only the elite or are insubstantial when it comes to feeding the world and, especially, feeding those who don’t have enough. I think they are missing the point altogether. Farmers Markets help create and invigorate the communities around them and give the poorest among us  access to fresh, local produce at a decent price. (Many low-income food programs include farmers markets.) They bolster not only the incomes of farmers who sell directly to the consumer, they allow farmers to reach customers for their CSAs and other farm programs. Farmers markets become an important lynch pin in the link between town and country, between producer and consumer.

I believe that the Port Susan Farmers Market is a major step in creating the urban-rural connection we need to ensure the sustainability of our town and the health of our people. For those who still doubt that these markets are viable, I just point them to the big farmers market on Pike Street, in Seattle, which has been running for over a century. That usually settles any dispute.