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!)

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.

Music, Food, and Chefs! Oh my!


(Top left) Jimmie Dale Gilmore, (top right) Moondoggies, (bottom left) Stilly River Band, and (bottom right) Clinton Fearon.

I’m just so excited! This weekend is the Slow Food Roots Music Festival. It’s a music festival unlike any you’ve ever attended. In addition to a veritable smorgasbord of tuneful delights, there will be chefs, art, a farmers market, wine & beer, and, oh yes, food! The concessions are all locally grown, farm-fresh, good-for-you eats. Take a peek:

  • Fifteen Hour Smoked Brisket & Pulled Pork – served on Bread Farm ciabatta with carrot cumin slaw & choice of bbq sauce
  • Del Fox Burgers & Sausages – served with choice of cheese, carmelized walla wallas, rhubarb ketchup, habanero relish, guinness roasted garlic or herb mustard
  • Grilled Corn on the Cob – basted with choice of brown sugar & coconut milk, cilantro & garlic butter, lime & chile butter, or herb butter & parmesan cheese
  • Raw Bar – Taylor Shellfish’ oysters and clams.  Served with choice of jalapeno mignonette, lemon oil mignonette, or lime and chile sorbet
  • Bacon Wrapped Enoki Mushrooms – served with ginger scallion sauce
  • A Taste for Plato – Mediterranean plate with hummus & baba ganoush served with pita and chick pea wraps
  • Dessert – Sweet chilled rice with a generous dollop of lemongrass yogurt and crushed berries

If you’re in the area (northern Snohomish County, Washington State) come join us for a fun, tasty, musical time. This shendig is a fund raiser for Slow Food Port Susan and many other local programs benefiting the lower Stillaguamish Valley.

Oh, and I’ll be pouring at the Slow Food Beer & Wine garden between 2 and 6pm. Stop on in!

Dancing Cows and Water Buffalos

Driving down a highway in central Oregon, there are certain things I expect to see. I will see cows, horses, fruit trees, maybe a vineyard, and a fossil bed or two. What I didn’t expect to see was a large herd of Asian water buffalo. I first noticed that they were the wrong color, sort of a bluish-gray dun. They were the wrong shape to be Herefords or Angus and the horns were in a strange formation.  It dawned on me that these were water buffalos. I nearly wrecked the car, rubber-necking to get another view. I never realized that these buffalo could grow to be 2600 pounds. They were huge!

Once I was able to go online, I found that they were owned by the Pilot Butte Ranch, a traditional ranch run by the Breese family since 1856. They had diversified into Asian Water Buffalo. They found them well-suited to the ranch and had flourished there. The Central Oregonian published a story on them and what their experience has been with these curious animals. It’s a great read.

The next morning, which broke gray and rainy, I was off to the opening day of the Prineville Farmers Market. It was a soggy, messy, drippy, mandatory-raincoat day, which meant, sadly, that few people attended. However, those that were there, the die-hard, early season purchasers, were very intent on getting their vegies before becoming completely soaked. The farmers, under their white tents, were quite gregarious and happy to see visitors, inviting us out of the rain to sample some great cheeses, taste some fresh vegies, and smell some fragrant soaps.

I met Cythia Graves from Mini Flerd Farm and talked with her about her custom-made soaps. She will enthusiastically make them with “a scent you’d like to see in a soap” and displayed many creative combinations, such as pearberry. I added myself to her email list and later discovered that she writes directly to her customers, giving her correspondence a very personal touch. That is a pleasant change from all the canned email I get.

I then talked with Jerre Kosta and Sean Dodson from Dancing Cow Farm. They raise both vegetables and heritage livestock breeds interdependently. Most of the animals they keep are listed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy List, which keeps tabs on breeds we may be in danger of losing. I really enjoyed chatting with them about the holistic and fully integrated methods they use in growing both plants and animals. Since I am unable to be vegetarian, (see my earlier posting on this subject), I am always interested in well-raised meat sources and how others view this. Sean’s blog, I found, is well written and has some interesting points to make about living and working on a farm and how that farm fits into the greater scheme of things within the universe.

It’s astounding that I only spent one night in central Oregon and yet found all these amazing farms and ranches. The drive across the state on Highway 26 is, really, beautiful. Unlike the eastern side of Washington, it is more forested, has higher rainfall, and the farms seem to be more diversified. That may just be my impression, but I found myself falling a little in love with that side of the state. I may have to plan a longer road trip to the area for my not-too-distant future.

Newsbits 10-21-2010 and one more link…

Yes, I forgot an important link: the American Farmland Trust. You can’t have farmers if there’s no land to farm. Rather important, I’d say.

Okay, on to some interesting, intriguing, and almost urban news to report:

  • The Stranger, a decidely citified publication, ran a fabulous article on The Greenhorns, which is an association of young farmers. They have a site and a new documentary coming out soon. 
  • The USDA has a Beginning Farmer and Rancher program. This year’s grants are closed but bookmark this site for 2011. 
  • They also have information on grants for Farmer’s Markets. There are grants and all kinds of good information.
  • My geek-o-meter is hitting the red zone because this weekend is the opening of the Battlestar Galactica exhibit at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. If I didn’t have a concert on Saturday, I’d be making noseprints on all their shiney new glass cases that day. Blast! I’ll just have to go later.
  • My ability to grow sweet potatoes has, once again, completely tanked this year. So, I’m actively seeking techniques for improving my success at raising my favorite tuber. I’m dying to make some fries. There’s just something about sweet potato fries…mmmmm…

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll try to use actual paragraphs in my next missive…unless I can create some really cool bullets, that is. (I wouldn’t hold my breath, however.)