At a Monday night meeting of the Kitsap Community and Agriculture Alliance, Nikki Johanson of Pheasant Field Farms kicked off a discussion among the roughly 30 attendees.
As farmers market seasons close up for the witness, she said, she’s increasingly heard vendors and customers wonder aloud where to go next for their local foods.
“People want local food … and they want it more than x-amount of months,” she said.
KCAA President Marilyn Holt said that additionally, for a commercial farmer to make it, the farm needs to be selling for 48 weeks out of the year. The farmers who don’t likely have to find additional sources of income.
Currently, most markets close in October. Poulsbo has a one-weekend Thanksgiving market and Bainbridge Island reopens its market in a new location in mid- to late-November and stays open for another month.
Year-round farmers markets exist elsewhere in the Puget Sound region. There is, of course, Pike Place, but also Ballard, University District, West Seattle, Port Angeles and San Juan Island.
In downtown Everett, a developer plans to build a 60,000 square-foot agriculture center to house a year-round farmers market, and will include a commercial kitchen and processing facility The facility will anchor a 180-unit housing project. A nonprofit group of farmers will operate the market, which developers hope to have open for the 2012 season.
Some markets like Port Townend’s and Olympia’s are open until Christmas, which some at the meeting suggested may be a better option for Kitsap.
And what’s sold at these markets isn’t just soaps and jams, though the producing of the latter has recently been made a little easier with the passage of a cottage food bill in Washington .
The winter offerings are, of course, not nearly as abundant as what’s offered in the summer, but farmers are able to bring in squashes and root crops and dried fruits and vegetables.
And let’s not forget that animals are raised on farms, too. One farmer said she saw plenty of poultry at West Seattle’s market. For the same to happen in Kitsap, though, farmers would likely have to find or create a facility (possibly a mobile one) to process poultry.
Johanson said that additionally, she’s had success with hoop houses, which could allow her to have marketable produce in February and March.
But many questions remain.
Questions such as: Where would the market go? Would there be a single space or would it be better to extend the seasons of several markets? Would the market(s) be truly year-round or is it better to lengthen the season to, say, Christmas? Would there be enough time after planning to plant crops to harvest this winter? Can you draw enough customers? Would there be a high enough proportion of farmers to meet Washington State Farmers Market Association guidelines (and thus gain the benefits that goes with being a part of the association, such as insurance)?
And, importantly, would enough farmers be willing to extend what can be an exhausting work year?
That last question is one group members hope to address first.
They’ve asked farmers market managers — Bremerton and Poulsbo markets were represented at the meeting — to poll their vendors and will go from there.
And until I hear those results, I’m going to do a little polling of my own and, as always, please comment away.