When Carnation Farmers Market was readying for the season-opening on July 7, the uncertainty of pulling off a successful venue was lingering as organizers were in a state of flux.
Last January, SnoValley Tilth, which had been hosting and managing the market, ended its 15-year affiliation citing non-sustainability and suggested the community of Carnation manage the venue.
That decision left new committee members scrambling for volunteers to help man the operation. And as fate would have it, many tossed their hats into the ring and things have come together better than expected.
“It’s been an amazing realization of dreams of many,” said planning committee member Rob Gilliam. “Sales have been up since last year, there has been a significant uptick of shoppers coming by, some really dedicated volunteers showing up week after week, and everybody is just expressing so much gratitude for the market just being back.”
Gilliam said he believes the announcement of the market going away at the end of last season inspired folks to come together and support their local food system and spend money with the farmers who are their neighbors.
“There’s a real community spirit with the Carnation Farmers Market that kind of holds the community together in a bigger sort of way than some of the larger urban farmers markets,” Gilliam said. “My wife works for the Washington State Farmers Market Association and she’s talking to market managers all the time and a lot of markets are reporting they are having a hard time right now. The shopper counts are lower and they are having to spend more money for more staff to take care of all the COVID requirements.”
Gilliam said there have been some interesting changes this year in that the market is having to follow completely different guidelines that don't apply to other types of businesses like supermarkets for example.
“We have to check people on the way in and we have a perimeter around the market,” he said. “There is an entrance station, and we have to ask people if they’ve experienced any COVID symptoms or have been exposed to anyone with COVID. We also have to make sure that everyone is wearing a mask, and make sure that we have all the vendors spaced out properly."
Gilliam said vendors do have to remind people they cannot handle the produce and fruit as in times past. Some of them put up a line in front of the tables that shoppers can't cross and an extra table to designate that space.
“It’s actually been really encouraging to see all the cooperation between the shoppers and vendors,” Gilliam said. “Everyone has really been good about distancing and wearing masks. No one has really given us any problems at all, and I understand that's not the case with some other farmers markets. But in our town, everybody has been really agreeable and good about things”
There were only six vendors on opening day. But when news of the market spread on social media and by word-of-mouth, Gilliam said the next week a couple more vendors signed-on, and by the third week of the market, there were a total of 10 vendors peddling their goods.
“About half of the vendors are right here from the Snoqualmie Valley,” Gilliam said. “We also have a dairy farmer from Skagit County, stone fruits from an eastside orchard, an eastside produce vendor, two local mixed fruit produce farms, a local herbal product vendor, and a local blueberry farm that just wrapped up its season.”
The market typically operates through the fall, but this season will shut down at the end of August.
“With the all-volunteer effort we are having a shorter season,” Gilliam said. “In the fall we will be turning our attention to creating a new organization. We used to be sponsored by SnoValley Tilth, but we are going to set up a new 501 C3 nonprofit for Carnation Farmers Market.”
The organization will maintain the same name but Gilliam said it’s going to be an independent organization.
“We have yet to start on this process,” he said. “We haven’t selected a board yet and will need to write a mission statement as well.”
The market is open each Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m. through the end of August.