Audrey Love

The La Grande Farmers’ Market is a community staple nearly half the year — but as the seasons change, so must the market (at least until next May).

Running in conjunction with local harvests, the seasonal, open-air market operates Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon and Tuesday afternoons from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. from May to October, with local vendors offering produce, baked goods, specialty foods, garden products, arts and crafts, and live music at Max Square in downtown
La Grande.

“I haven’t crunched any numbers yet, but both (markets) seemed like they had more vendors this year — both were really full and it felt like we were always busy,” said market manager Beth Wasley. “We added a lot of events this year (and) we’ve had a lot of community support.”

Since its beginnings as the Blue Mountain Local Producers’ Market in the 1980s, the market has expanded to include a kids’ day, salsa contest, Double Up Food Bucks program, Farm-to-Fork brunch, beer gardens on “4th Tuesday” markets, community cider pressing and, most recently, a pie day, where market-goers paid $5 a plate to judge bakers’ pies and vote on their favorite.

“I know the vendors are happy. I’ve had a lot of vendors say this is their favorite market — that the people are friendly (and) they love coming here,” Wasley said.

Throughout her nine-year tenure as market manager, Wasley has seen the event continually blossom and expand, with Saturday market vendors now numbering in the 30-40 range and Tuesday’s numbers up as well.

“The market has grown exponentially,” Wasley said. “Our Tuesday market had 10-15 vendors — up to 20 sometimes — which is crazy. That’s the way our Saturday market used to be. (Just) a couple of years ago we averaged (only) five vendors at our Tuesday market.”

Wasley also sought to increase the market’s online and social media presence this year, including a greater focus on promotions and the creation of a newsletter, by adding a promotions manager position to the market staff.

“It’s just a great opportunity for people to see each other and it’s a nice family event. I think it really adds to the quality of life in this community,” Wasley said of why she thinks the market is an asset. “I think people in this community (have created) a kind of intercommunity support system — we all do a great job supporting each other, and businesses (sponsorships) too have really helped the market be able to support local farms and help keep those growing. It’s pretty neat that this market is here to support people in that kind of endeavor.”

The end of this year’s market also brings a pointed change — Wasley will step down from her position and the current assistant manager and promotions manager, Jessica Bogard, will assume her role.

“She’s always loved the market and cares deeply about it,” Wasley said of Bogard. “She’s been involved almost as long as I’ve been manager (and) definitely has a passion for it and is energetic and full of ideas. (The market) might be ready for someone with new energy.”

Wasley described the position of market manager as a “big job” — one that requires commitment and organization as well as a degree of sociability and penchant for getting along and communicating with an amalgam of people and personalities.

See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer.