You may have a friend who sells their produce, meat, cheese, baked goods, honey, jams, crafts, or any of many different farm-raised or handmade goods at a farmers market. You may have a friend who shops at farmers markets. Maybe you wonder why some people get so excited about them. There’s an organization in Washington State working closely with most of the 150 or so farmers markets and the many hundreds of farmers and small family food and craft businesses around the state that want to share Washington’s bounty with everyone. The Washington State Farmers Market Association (WSFMA) is a nonprofit dedicated to helping farmers market organizers operate strong, effective sales sites for Washington farmers. The WSFMA serves over 115 farmers markets in 80+ cities and towns around the state. Collectively these markets represent over $45 million in sales to the family businesses that vend at them.
Farmers Markets represent an important link in the complex food chain that brings the bounty of our farms to the table. For certain farmers, it is the chance to start a small business, learn the ropes, make connections and find out what they can do well. They get immediate feedback from consumers that helps them refine their skills and product mix, get noticed by larger buyers such as chefs, schools, and institutions, and expand their business, all while earning a retail price that helps them better cover their production cost. For shoppers, it represents the opportunity to connect with the people who grow their food, taste the many flavors of new varieties they may not have seen before, learn about seasonality and how to cook new food, shop in a social environment, meet up with neighbors and friends, and develop new relationships. For the hundreds of thousands of farmers market shoppers all around this state, the farmers market is a direct connection to Washington agriculture. It is the face of farming for many whose families are now generations removed from the land.
Farmers markets come in all different sizes and shapes, and each is important in its community and serves a unique role for its farmers and vendors. All farmers markets are great aggregators that link farmers and shoppers. Historically, farmers markets were not only a place to conduct commerce, but a time to get caught up with neighbors and friends. This is true for farmers as well as for shoppers. We all need to catch up and talk to our friends, whether they are farmers, the local banker or store owner.
August 2-8, 2015 is National Farmers Market Week! Find your closest farmers market, stop by and engage with all the individuals who operate small businesses and want to offer you the best from their land, workshop, or kitchen. Ask them questions about what they do and why. Find out what their favorite items are among those they sell. Sample a new food and ask how to prepare it for your family. (Many farmers are excellent cooks and will gladly share a favorite recipe or two.) Find out what the farmer or vendor will bring to market next week. Buy something you’ve never eaten before. Buy your favorite foods! You’ll be helping a Washington owned and operated business and helping a farmer keep on farming!
Editor’s note: as printed in the 7/30/15 issue of the Huckleberry Press.