Rain can’t drown farmers markets’ success
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey Examiner Staff
December 19, 2012 · Updated 4:04 PM
Rainy spring weather took a bite out of the Coupeville Farmers Market this year, resulting in the first decrease in sales since 2005.
Market officials attended the Coupeville Town Council’s regular meeting last week to give elected officials their annual roundup of the summer market, which is held from April to mid-October in the grassy field behind the library.
According to market Manager Peg Tennant, overall sales dipped by about $6,100, from a record $345,800 in 2011 to $339,700 this year. She believes the likely culprit was the unusually wet spring as it set back the start of the growing season.
Produce is the major money maker at the market, accounting for 51 percent of total sales this year. In all, local farmers brought in more than $173,500 for produce, which is a decline from the $182,000 sold in 2011.
Considering both the crummy weather and an economy that continues to struggle, Tennant said the dent in this year’s sales isn’t too bad.
“We are really happy with just being $6,000 under last year,” she said.
Coupeville did out perform its North Whidbey competitor, however, when it topped the Oak Harbor Public Market in overall sales for the third year in a row. The city market consistently falls below the town in produce sales but it does consistently better with prepared food as it is held in the evening hours, Tennant said.
“If you can eat it, you can sell it there,” she said. “I know that because I manage that one too.”
Dorothy Mueller, president of the Coupeville market’s board of directors, was also present at the council meeting. She said shopper attendance is not recorded but vendor attendance is and was reported healthy throughout the summer.
A total of 55 members participated with average per week of 48. Of the total, 18 were farmers, 22 were nonprofit organizations and eight were musicians, she said.
An expanded partnership with the library also resulted in special presentations, such as the medieval sword-fighting demonstration put on by the Moses Lake-based Knights of Veritas.
She noted that a recent study by Washington State University’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Department estimated that farmers markets in 2011 contributed over $50 million in sales to the economy.
“It does have a big impact,” she said.
According to Tennant, the hourly sales average of all vendors combined in 2011 was $3,145 per hour. That works out to about $12,500 every day, she said.
“So yeah, part of that $50 million is us,” Tennant said.
The success of the farmers market isn’t lost on the agricultural community, especially in Central Whidbey. In 2011, 3 Sisters Farm launched a limited after-season market that took place once a month from October to December.
It was enough of a success that the Muzzall family decided to run it again this year. Shelly Muzzall reported steady vendor and public attendance despite heavy rains during market days.
“People are really dedicated to buying local and are willing to come out even in bad weather,” she said.
“Our community is awesome generous,” she said.
Tennant also told the council that the public is becoming quite educated when it comes to buying their produce. This year, customers commonly asked farmers what strains or varieties of vegetables they grew, she said.
“This community’s agricultural roots go deep,” Tennant said. “It’s just awesome.”