Farmersí market season starts Saturday

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer May 16, 2012 12:26 pm
Union County’s chance to shop local, mingle with neighbors, have a good time and eat fresh comes around again this weekend, as the La Grande Farmers’ Market launches another season at Max Square downtown.

Each year the market offers shoppers the chance to hook up with local producers and businesses and buy fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, specialty foods, quality meat and eggs, arts and crafts, and more. Market Director Beth Wasley said this year’s roster of vendors is a big one, so shoppers have a better-than-good chance to find that special thing they’re looking for.

“The numbers have been growing. Last year we averaged about 28 vendors on Saturday. One Saturday we had as many as 41, and as many as 20 on a Tuesday,” Wasley said.

The first market of the year opens Saturday at 9 a.m. and continues to noon, with music played live by local performers. Live entertainment will be featured every Saturday throughout the season.

And, the Farmers’ market faithful will be glad to know that the Tuesday market is getting off to an early start this year. In former years, the Tuesday sessions started in June, but popular demand spurred the farmer’s market board made to start the Tuesday market May 22.

“We have a had a lot of vendors request it. If they have stuff to sell on Saturdays, they have stuff Tuesdays, too,” Wasley said.

She said at the Saturday market, there are plans to Kids Day, featuring music, children’s activities and the giving out of tokens for produce.

“That’s so kids can see for themselves how delicious the food is,” Wasley said. She said the Kids Day, for which no date has been set, is made possible by a grant from the local Soroptimist club. 

Also new this year, Wasley said she will be producing a Farmers’ Market newsletter that will spotlight local vendors and sponsors, offer recipes and food preparation tips, and more. She said the first issue is planned for this month.

Wasley said the Farmers’ Market board and vendors alike appreciate this year’s festive new poster, which was created by Keith Baker, a former Union County schoolteacher who lives in the Seattle area now.

“It was very gracious of him to design the poster. I’ve been putting them up, and people have been saying how excited they are,” she said.

The La Grande Farmers’ Market operated under a different name in 1980. Originally the market was named The Blue Mountain Local Producers’ Market, but the goals today aren’t too much different than the goals of yesterday – to create venues where local farmers can connect directly with La Grande consumers, to build community in the rural-urban setting, and to provide public education on regional farming, gardening and food preparation. 

The market is operated by a paid manager and governed by an all-volunteer board. The organization is funded through vendor fees, support of market sponsors, members, an annual fund-raising dinner, countless hours of volunteer time, and numerous food donations by vendors to education programs. La Grande Farmers’ Market receives no city, state, or federal funding.

Wasley said she thinks the growth and success of the La Grande Farmers’ Market reflects a nationwide trend.

“I think markets are growing all across the nation. People are more interested in eating local food, and they’re learning local food has more nutrition. Plus, they want to support local business,” she said.

The market accepts the Oregon Trail Card card, vouchers from the Oregon Farm Direct Nutrition Program, and WIC fruit and veggie vouchers.