A local woman has stepped up to power the Jefferson County Farmers Markets and its farm vendors through the end of a season that has seen a dramatic decrease in sales due to the COVID-19 …
A local woman has stepped up to power the Jefferson County Farmers Markets and its farm vendors through the end of a season that has seen a dramatic decrease in sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The frequent market-goer paid off the farm vendors’ market fees for the remainder of the season after a call to action to the community by Jefferson County Farmers Markets Director Amanda Milholland in July.
“Basically, this means that farm vendors, for the rest of the season, will take home every dollar that they earn in the market,” Milholland said.
The weekly Port Townsend and Chimacum Farmers Markets have seen a 52 percent drop in sales this season, attributed by Milholland to a significant decrease in market-goers, both local and tourist. The busiest market day this season saw about 700 shoppers, Milholland said, down from an average of 2,500 to 3,000 in past years.
In addition, many vendors opted out of selling at the markets this year, citing financial and health reasons. The loss of the Wednesday market in Port Townsend and a three-week late start to the season have also contributed to this drop in sales.
This decrease has had a “huge impact” on the vendors, Milholland said, as many rely on market sales for a major percentage of their income, and on Jefferson County Farmers Markets itself, as a majority of the nonprofit’s income comes from the market booth fees and the 4 percent sales fee from vendors.
Milholland, in looking for a way to ameliorate the situation, crunched some numbers to determine what the Jefferson County Farmers Markets would need to close the gap between current sales and their sales goal. She found that an extra $20 spent by each market regular would do the trick. Milholland sent out a newsletter calling for the community to buy some extra vegetables, flowers, cheese and other products the next time they visit, to help the market reach its goal.
Gale Kirsopp, Milholland said, read the underlying message of local farmers struggling and fearing for the future, and decided that she wanted to ensure their survival not only through this pandemic, but beyond it as well.
“I can’t imagine our community without thriving farms and a vibrant farmers market,” Kirsopp said in a press release.
“While this is an investment in local farms, it is also an investment in the Jefferson County economy, as it helps farms continue to provide employment and supports these businesses during a high loss year,” Milholland said.
“For businesses that are just barely making it, her investment in their businesses with her donation to cover booth fees is huge, and may help some of the smaller farms be able to make it through the season.”
Julia Curl of Space Twins Provisions, a permaculture farm in Discovery Bay and a first-time market vendor this season, echoed all farmers interviewed when she expressed how grateful she was to Kirsopp.
“We were stoked,” Curl said of hearing the news from Milholland. “It’s huge for us honestly. We’re a really small farm and that weekly fee is not insignificant to us, so that’s huge that somebody came in and is showing support in that way.”
Going to market is labor intensive for farmers, said Janet Aubin, co-farm manager at Finnriver Farms — from harvesting and gathering their products to traveling to the markets and paying to set up shop.
When sales are as uncertain as they are now, the cost and effort of going to market may not be feasible for all farmers.
“Having the fee covered, that’s just one less obstacle to showing up at market, so I’m really grateful for the support in that way,” Aubin said.
“I think it’s a really creative way of supporting small businesses and small farms, and the community having more access to local products,” she added.
Local farmers said that the community support has remained strong so far this market season, and has helped them stay afloat despite the drop in market customers, the lack of a Wednesday market, and reductions in wholesale contracts with local restaurants.
Curl said that she is impressed by the enthusiasm of the customers she and her husband get every weekend.
“We’ve been grateful that people have been so receptive and are coming out despite the pandemic,” she said. “I think people have been more compelled than ever to purchase locally grown food, so there’s been a lot of reciprocal thanks and support in the community.”
The market’s online presence has been a major venue through which community members have supported the market this season, Milholland said. The store has been perfect, she said, for both vendors and customers who don’t feel comfortable going to the outdoor markets during the pandemic.
Online sales are not as high as those from the regular markets, but are nonetheless providing reliable sales to farm vendors each week, especially those who aren’t able to participate in the weekend markets.
In addition, many farmers are increasing their CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) sales, in which community members purchase produce and other products directly from farmers.
Finnriver Farms, who Aubin said had a “very small” CSA program for the past five years, tripled their membership this season for their CSA “Farm Box” subscription service.
“Everyone is having so much uncertainty and fear about the future, so having such interest in our CSA really helps boost morale, because we felt that our community really valued what we were doing and really wanted to see us survive the pandemic,” she said.
“It felt good to have a low-contact option for folks who don’t feel comfortable going to the market,” Aubin added.
In addition, some farms have received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program or regional nonprofit North Olympic Development Commission. The farms will repay these loans in the form of giving food to food pantries and feeding programs in both Jefferson and Clallam counties.
The $20 challenge is still going on, Milholland said, and she encouraged the community to support locally grown and made products at the markets both in person and online.
The Port Townsend Farmers Market is held on Tyler Street in Uptown Port Townsend from 9 a.m. to
1 p.m. every Saturday April through December, and in Chimacum on the corner of Rhody Drive and Chimacum Road from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday. To shop at the online market and find out more about CSAs, visit www.jcfmarkets.org.
Aubin, for one, feels confident about the continuing success of Jefferson County’s farming community despite the challenges it currently faces.
“I feel so supported by our community, and I know it’s going to continue to have challenges, but I feel like we’re gonna make it through,” she said.
“Optimism is a really important characteristic for farming, because something’s always going to go wrong. You have to hope for the best, so that’s what I’m sticking with.”