With the ceremonial toss of a cabbage, the Bellingham Farmers Market’s annual opening each April serves as a call for local residents to shake off the dreariness of another winter and head downtown.
Now in its 20th year, the Bellingham Farmers Market is beginning to attract national attention. In 2011, Sunset magazine ranked the Bellingham market number one on its top 10 list of farmers markets across the western U.S., beating out markets in Hawaii, Santa Fe, N.M., and the Central Valley of California.
As the Wednesday Fairhaven market gets set to open in June on the Village Green on Mill Street, we asked market director Caprice Teske what’s new and what’s to come as the event enters its third decade.
BBJ: What are the biggest changes visitors will likely notice this year?
Teske: Since this is our 20th Season, we are creating fun ways for the community to celebrate with us over all 38 Saturday Market days. The first Saturday of the month we are featuring “20 Percent Off Days” to thank our customers for their continued support. Vendors are encouraged to feature at least one of their products at a 20 percent discount on these days. We hope this will create a fun way for customers to consider trying something new or to purchase that one item they’ve been eyeing for a while.
The second Saturday of each month will be “Garden Talks,” featuring master gardeners sharing their knowledge and information about various aspects of starting or caring for gardens.
The third Saturday of each month is our “Chef in the Market” program. This year it’s even better, with two different chefs doing demos each time – 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The demos include information on local produce, recipes and free samples.
The last Saturday of each month is our “Kids in the Market,” featuring local children selling their handcrafted items. We also have special kids’ activities on these days, hosted by Common Threads Farm.
BBJ: The Wednesday market in Fairhaven always seems to have a different feel from the one downtown. Is it meant to be distinct?
Teske: It really feels like our markets have taken on the personality of the specific spaces and communities that support them. The Wednesday market is able to take a much more laid-back approach, since we have the benefit of the Fairhaven Village Green, where families can relax and stay awhile.
With 20 to 25 vendors each Wednesday, its smaller size really enables customers to spend time getting to know the farmers and other vendors, so I think a lot of great customer/ vendor relationships are forged.
BBJ: The Farmers Market functions as both a shopping center and a weekend community event. How do you balance the business with the fun?
Teske: It certainly takes a lot of finesse. The atmosphere that the buskers and other entertainment bring is certainly a cornerstone of the market’s identity and has developed over the years as the market has gained popularity.
Our mission also includes providing educational opportunities for customers, so we often host local nonprofits wishing to share their message.
Since our primary mission is to connect customers with local producers, our priority has to be making sure that customers can access the vendors easily. Some days it’s easier to reach this balance than others.
BBJ: What do you think about the independent vendors who usually set up outside the market while it’s open?
Teske: We understand that we can’t be all things to all people, and it’s clear that we also don’t have the space to accommodate everyone that wants to be a part of the market.
It’s a compliment that people feel that setting up near the market is a benefit. If these vendors are respectful of the community that is coming to shop and of the local businesses they are setting up in front of, then the hope is that there is enough community support to go around, and it can be a win-win for everyone.
BBJ: After two decades in operation, what does the future hold for the market?
Teske: In the short run, we are already researching the possibility of creating a once-a-month winter market to run January through March. This would be a way for us to test the waters for creating a year-round market down the road.
With more and more of our farmers growing in greenhouses, we have already begun to see the wealth of produce that they can bring early in the season. It would be so great to be able to provide fresh, local produce to consumers during those long, dark days.
Beyond that, we are proud to be working closely with Sustainable Connections’ Food and Farming program to promote the Eat Local First campaign, helping consumers identify how their food and shopping choices can improve the availability of local food options and our local economy.
Although many of our consumers are already knowledgeable, we know we can help reach more people, and we know that our consumers are our own best advocates.