Opinion

Sites not right, so farmers’ market planning put on hold

Thank you, Enumclaw residents, all 535 of you, who participated in the Enumclaw Plateau Farmers’ Market questionnaire last summer. Your opinions and requests let us know there is a large segment of our community that wants fresh, local food available in our home town now. Your keen interest and desire for direct sales from local farmers who produce safe, nutritious food have been the forces propelling our efforts. We also deeply appreciate those knowledgeable people who have started, maintained and participated in other farmers’ markets. Your direction and support in person, on the phone and through the Internet have been priceless.

The EPFM steering committee has carefully followed the Washington State Farmers Market Association guidelines for a successful seasonal farmers’ market. Our first task was designing, dispersing and consolidating the overwhelmingly positive questionnaire results. Next we contacted and listened to local farmers who want to (or do) participate in farmers’ markets. That helped us to clarify a mission, vision and goals for direct sales from local farmers to our community. We talked to members of Enumclaw’s two prior farmers’ markets to learn what did and did not work for each group and we listened to their recommendations. We researched at length why markets – particularly in smaller towns – spring up and fail within a few years.

Markets are involved and precarious balancing acts. One in three has been known to fail annually. We learned that starting a market without the right foundation is like building a house of cards; so we began an operating structure of basic market rules, budget, marketing strategies and a business plan. Because the EPFM is a community-based initiative involving growers, citizens, businesses and government, we began the process for attaining nonprofit status. We legally incorporated, began recruiting board members and searched for an appropriate site.

An appropriate site – one likely to meet with ongoing success – is surprisingly hard to procure in Enumclaw. It is generally known that the three most important words for starting a business are “location, location, location.” Establishing weekly community shoppers at a farmers’ market takes three to five years. For farmers to attend a new market during that lengthy period there must be a steady flow of potential new buyers or a market will collapse. The EPFM board has spent six months exploring 14 suggested sites and evaluating them by the 10 WSFMA criteria and specific needs learned for the Enumclaw area.

The three critical site needs, in order of importance, for a weekly, seasonal market in Enumclaw are:

1 – good visibility near high traffic flow (cars, walkers, bikers);

2 – quick, easy, and safe convergence of hundreds of people;

3 – plentiful, nearby parking for shoppers and vendors.

No amount of signage can compensate if these factors are missing here.

Shoppers come to a seasonal market because they want a varied choice of fresh, local food from multiple growers. Farmers pay the costs necessary to be there and break from their demanding schedules, only if real opportunity exists at the market’s location and time to sell their food. For this synergy to occur on the Plateau the above three criteria are imperatives.

Two of the sites most commonly suggested, the Expo Center and the chamber parking lot, although available, do not meet the above needs for a one-afternoon-week, summer/fall market because they are not high-traffic areas. The Expo Center has the potential to be a slow-growing, open-daily, year-round destination, similar to Remlinger’s Family Fun Park in Carnation. Even though that kind of market’s structure, function and needs widely differ from those of the popular seasonal farmers’ markets, both can work in tandem and enhance each other as do Carnation’s seasonal farmers’ market with Remlingers.

Here is the bad news: The Enumclaw sites we found suitable for a farmers’ market, although actively pursued, are not available. No appropriate site....no market. Although we hope to eventually find a site, we cannot continue to spend time, energy and money as we have for the past year. We must change our focus.

Our mission in this endeavor has been two-fold: to bring a market to Enumclaw and to tell people about the benefits of sustainable farming. We plan to continue the second part of that mission, because we believe that the land of the Enumclaw Plateau is it’s greatest resource for bringing wealth and health to our community. We have a new blog focused on Enumclaw farming and on locally grown food. We hope you will visit us at http://enumclawfarmersmarket.blogspot.com.

Please take a look and become a “follower” so you’ll know when there is something new. We welcome your comments.

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