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Helpline won’t be a vendor in farmer’s market for coming year

Port Orchard Farmers Market members can blame one person, rather than a committee, if they take issue with  a particular vendor this year.

Last year, one vendor upset many.

“Our rules, since the market was founded in 1978, have said that, if you have a storefront, you can’t participate,” said Laura Pittman-Hewitt, the market president.

The by-laws, she said, only make exceptions for “family farms and cottage industries.”

That’s important for local farmers, Pittman-Hewit explained.

“The farmers need the market,” she said. “People won’t drive around from farm to farm to farm to buy stuff.”

They’d rather buy it in one stop, and the market doesn’t want competition at that stop from food vendors who can sell at their own store.

The organization started making exceptions to its rule.

The farmer’s market is a democracy, Pittman-Hewitt said, so it can change the rules whenever members want to.

At first, the exceptions included local processed food vendors, like Carter’s Chocolates.

“There are a lot of expenses with being a processed food business,” Pittman-Hewitt said.

For example, it’s really hard for them to do well without setting up a commerical kitchen, she said. “You may as well have a store in front of the kitchen to make it more cost effective.”

Last summer, however, the board of directors made a different sort of exception to the rule — South Kitsap Food Helpline, a nonprofit organization that operates a food bank and the Port Orchard Nursery out of 1012 Mitchell Ave. in Port Orchard.

“They told us they were not planning on selling plants at the market that year,” said Pittman-Hewitt.

But Helpline did start selling plants.

The plants were significantly cheaper than the for-profit farmers around them, when it started cutting into the local farmer’s profits, the members complained.

And an ad hoc committee requested, at a board meeting on Feb. 10, that the market manager choose individually which vendors can participate in the market.

The board approved its suggestion at that meeting, so the manager now has that authority.

Meanwhile, South Kitsap Food Helpline doesn’t plan to apply for the Port Orchard Farmer’s Market this year.

It does, however, plan to take part in the Gig Harbor and Bremerton markets.

“We would make other plans, in case (the Port Orchard Farmer’s Market) didn’t work out,” said Jennifer Hardison, Helpline’s executive director.

“We’ll still be reaching people from the Port Orchard community,” she said. “Some people live in Gig Harbor or Bremerton and commute to Port Orchard for work.”

South Kitsap Food Helpline plans to do several things differently this year than last year.

The agency will try, for example, to be more efficient.

“It was a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. kind of day,” Hardison said. “We’re making some plans to streamline the process.”

Helpline officials also plan to take less food and spread the word that they have a nursery in Port Orchard.

Prices may also increase on some of the items for sale, mainly to cover transportation costs.

And other items are likely to increase in price, just due to market demand.

The price for tomatoes, for example, will probably increase significantly, due to shortages.

“Tomatoes aren’t doing well in other areas,” Hardison said, “to the extent that some restaurants are taking tomato dishes off their menu.”

But Helpline has certainly not chosen to increase prices because of pressure from the Port Orchard Farmer’s Market, she emphasized.

“Our whole goal, with this nursery endeavor, is to make healthy food accessible and affordable to all,” Hardison said. “We don’t want to jack up our prices to the point that people can’t afford them. That goes against everything we believe.”

 

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