Business

Port Orchard farmer’s market revs up for summertime

Support for the idea of regional sustainability and locally grown food will give this year’s Port Orchard Farmers’ Market a boost, according to its supporters.

“People want to participate in the support of locally grown agriculture,” said Port Orchard resident Sharon Howard, who is a returning vendor. “In a lot of cases, the produce I sell is picked that morning. You can’t get food that’s any fresher than that.”

Additionally, the prevailingly poor economic conditions will have little effect.

“Farmers’ markets are increasing sales about 25 percent or 30 percent a year,” said Poulsbo resident Jackie Aitcheson, president of the Washington Farmers’ Market Association. “I expect that to continue, but I am an optimist.”

Aitcheson vouches for this freshness, saying that, “Sometimes you have people out there in the middle of the night before the market, with their headlamps, harvesting what they will sell the next day.”

Freshness aside, Aitcheson said the produce gives consumers more for their money on several levels. Even if the price of a head of market lettuce is close to what you would pay in a supermarket, the money stays local.

“The Farmers’ Market doesn’t have the kind of markup you see in a large chain grocery store,” she said. “Even if a large store pays local peoples’ wages, some of the money still goes to their corporate headquarters. At a Farmers’ Market, the money you pay goes directly to the vendor, and changes hands three times before it leaves the community.”

Howard said she sets her prices at or around that of the average supermarket, but less than what is designated as “organic.” 

And while organic is a legal designation that local produce can’t claim, it essentially follows the guideline of having no pesticides or preservatives.

“In a Farmers’ Market, you’re dealing directly with the grower,” Howard said, “so you know exactly where the food comes from. This is more appealing to a lot of consumers, once they learn that food from supermarket chains are shipped all the way from South America or some other faraway location.”

So if you buy something you don’t like in a local market, you can go back the next week and the grower will make it right.

Large markets take responsibility and make exchanges, but cannot match the freshness.

Or for that matter, the safety according to Aitcheson.

“Recently we’ve heard about salmonella and E coli and other problems with some foods,” she said. “But during six years of experience, I have never heard of a food safety issue originating from a farmers’ market.”

“Here in Kitsap, we still have some great small farms,” Howard said. “Helping them stay alive and in business helps protect a local source of food. When gas and diesel prices go up, the cost of food is directly impacted. Locally grown food is produced in a far more natural way and is shipped tiny distances, in our case four miles from our farm to the market. Protecting local food sources is a prudent thing for a society to do.”

Aitcheson said people who shop at a farmers’ market usually support other local businesses.

And the Port Orchard market, in particular, is itself a tourist attraction due to its proximity to the foot ferry and the marina.

“We have people coming in from the foot ferry from Bremerton and even Seattle,” Howard said.“This is a very handy location.”

While the Port Orchard Farmers’ market is a key part of downtown activity in the summertime, the city is looking to expand its scope.

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola is investigating establishing a year-round indoor market in one of the vacant buildings in the downtown commercial area.

Aitcheson said year-round markets thrive, but Howard has her doubts. “It’s hard for local farmers to grow year-round,” she said. “But the craftspeople could do very well.”

Howard said the Port Orchard market has about 80 vendors, divided between crafts and produce.

Vendors are asked to pay a $20 fee to join the market association, and either $7.50 or $15 per stall each day.

She said that all vendors make a profit, but many choose to not attend when they don’t have enough product to make it worthwhile.

Interested vendors should go to www.pofarmersmarket.org.

The Port Orchard Market is the oldest in the county, and one of the biggest.

It operates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday, this year between April 25 and Oct. 10.

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