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.

When a Farmgeek’s Fancy Turns…

Tis spring! (At least the calendar would have me believe so, even if the weather is less than cooperative.) This means that a farmer’s fancy turns to thoughts of…planting vegies! Yes, the seed selection is well underway. Now, if it would just stop snowing…

For those of you less rural, local vegetables and fruits can be delivered right to your door. Sarah Jackson at the Everett Herald has created a primer on consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) and how it works. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Oh, and the garlic we planted last November is almost a foot high. We’ll be able to effectively repel vampires by harvest at the end of July.

Small Farmers and Social Media

I’ve heard from a number of small farmers and small farm advocates that there isn’t a place for high tech in a community-based agricultural endeavor. I say that there is. In fact, I believe that the latest internet tools can enhance a small farming community and can lead to a greater connection with those who appreciate locally-grown, organic foods.

Just as email has become a replacement for a great deal of paper sent through USPS, social media can facilitate conversations with customers when time or distance is a problem. Social Media can also act as an amazingly immediate news service, uniquely geared towards an individual’s needs. Let me explain.

In Los Angeles a couple of years ago, there were a number of very fine chefs who could not afford to open any kind of eating establishment because the cost of real estate was exhorbitantly high. (Ah yes, the good old days…) They were past the apprenticeship stage of their careers but couldn’t get to the next level for lack of capital. These enterprising gourmands could, however, afford taco vans. Essentially, they took some kitchens-on-wheels and renovated them enough to accomodate their culinary specialities. They could park, cook, serve, and go. The biggest problem they had was that they couldn’t park in the same place everytime. So, how did they let their local customers know where they were serving?

They signed up for free accounts on Twitter, or Facebook, or the social medium of their choice, and posted their information on the sides of their vans. Interested customers friended or followed them either online or on their cell phones. They knew exactly where they could get their garlic vegetable soup, or allspice cupcakes, or chicken cordon bleu. The customers were waiting when the van pulled up each day.

It was a low-cost, inventive, quick business model that worked, getting fresh, gourmet foods to customers without all the hassle. (No wait staff to have to pay, either.) They could even drive out to the farms to pick up their fresh produce each day, eliminating the wait for deliveries. Lots of chefs in lots of cities are now following this model and doing quite well.

So, how can this translate to a non-movable small farm business? Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios:

  • You run a CSA, providing baskets of fresh, organic, heirloom produce delivered to customers. Some of your customers have never seen Cherokee Purple tomatos, or Hokkaido pumpkins, or Collard greens and really don’t know how to cook them. A Facebook account is a great way to provide a listing, including pictures, of what you have included in the baskets that week, and links to recipes you’ve found online. You’re providing important information to your customers so that they can enjoy your produce even more.
  • You have a large section of U-pick crops on your land. You’d like to let people know when your fruits and vegetables are ready for harvesting. You need an immediate notification service to reach those who would be interested. A Twitter account might be just the ticket. Each entry may be only 140 characters in length but you can tell people an awful lot in that space. You can even provide links for more information.
  • You run an artisanal dairy, making unique cheeses. You’re larder is just jam-packed with a well-aged assortment of tasty comestibles and you need to move some stock. Any social media outlet will let you remind folks to meet you at the farmer’s market, ready, with cash in hand, to stock up on your fine cheeses.

Social media can give you direct access to your customers, without an outlay of money. It also eliminates the need to maintain contact lists. Customers have the ability to follow you at their discretion and to forward your information to others who would likewise be interested. Social media accounts, unlike websites, are free. Yep, free. What they do take is a bit of time. Unlike posting static information on a website, you create a conversation with your customers and, sometimes, even customers you don’t yet have.

How do you get your customers to follow you on a social media site? How did they become customers in the first place? Wherever you post information for people to see is where you can add your Facebook or Twitter information. Easy-peasy, pudding and pie…

Incidentally, my twitter account is @ruraltechgeek. If you want to know more about uses for social media, look me up there.