A North Coast Food Web project
North Coast Food Web, the organization behind Astoria’s River People Farmers Market, celebrated the final market day of the 2013 season in early October, expressing appreciation and gratitude for the market’s small farmers, food vendors, and volunteers who make the market–hosted by Astoria Indoor Gardening in their parking lot–possible.
“It felt like the community really found us in our third season,” said North Coast Food Web Executive Director Kristin Frost Albrecht, who acts as de facto market manager for this all-volunteer run market. “Our attendance numbers were way up this year, and our farmers were happy with the growing number of people coming out to shop, and then stick around to eat some delicious prepared foods and enjoy the live music with friends and family. The market had a great community feeling to it this season.”
In addition to the edible goods on offer from regional farmers, ranchers, bakers and chefs, NCFW sponsored several community booths that added flavor and fun–and a bit of education–to the weekly event. Like most of the small farmers markets on the coast, the RPFM offers a free booth to community groups to set up an information display, sell some raffle tickets or other items, and talk about their work with community members. “It’s a great way to let people know what’s happening in their community,” said Albrecht.
NCFW board member and former OSU Extension Garden and Nutrition Educator Jennifer Rasmussen built on the success of last season’s kid’s activity booth and transformed it into the Sprouts Club, a weekly market camp for kids, with food related activities, art projects, and story time. Kids also received a $1 token each week to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables at the market.
“It’s about helping kids see healthy fresh food as fun and tasty, and encouraging them to start making good food choices when they are still young,” Rasmussen explains. “And the kids loved it!”
Healthy food choices were also on the menu at the Taste of Place booth, a new NCFW farmers market project this season. NCFW board member and current OSU Extension Garden and Nutrition Educator Miki’ala Souza and Pat Milliman, owner of Pat’s Pantry, a local herb and spice shop, shared over a thousand sample tastes of recipes prepared with many of the fruits and vegetables found at the market, and handed out recipes and cooking tips to help shoppers learn more about how to prepare their farmers market bounty.
“We saw an immediate and direct response from the public as they tasted what we were cooking, took a recipe, and then bought the ingredients from a farmer, or at the Astoria Co-op across the street,” remarked Souza. “It was so great when people returned the following week to tell us how the recipes turned out for them at home.”
Milliman agreed, adding “It feels good to support more folks getting in the kitchen and cooking for themselves.”
Market volunteers agreed that the runaway success story of this market season was the Lemonade and Pie Walk project, where sales of fresh squeezed lemonade, pie by the slice and ticket sales for two pie walks each market funded a program benefiting market shoppers who participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps). North Coast Food Web provides SNAP market shoppers with up to $10 in matching funds each week when they use their benefits card to purchase food from local farmers and food businesses: fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, honey, bread and plants that produce food, such as tomatoes, lettuce and herbs.
North Coast Food Web’s SNAP match program gave out $2,293 in matching funds during the 2013 market season, with much of the funding coming from lemonade and Pie Walk ticket sales.
Merianne Myers, NCFW board member and the driving force behind the Lemonade Project and Pie Walk, added, “I loved that some shoppers planned their market visits around Pie Walk time. One regular told me ‘Pie Walk has changed the way I think about the week. It’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Pie Walk, Friday.’ It was a terrific way to raise funds for a great program and raise the fun level at the market.”
Still, at the heart of any farmers market are the farmers, ranchers and food producers whose products are a primary reason that people come to the market. Islands End Farm, located 25 miles east of Astoria on Puget Island, has attended the River People Farmers Market since its beginning in 2009. Owners Carol Carver and George Exum sell fresh produce and value added products like kim chi, pesto and jam.
“We love RPRM!”, Carol enthused. “The volunteers are the best, and the market shoppers are so dedicated. We had one of the most blustery, raining-sideways days this season, and it was one of our best week’s ever for sales. River People Farmers Market has a huge heart, and you can see it everywhere.”
North Coast Food Web is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to building a healthy local food economy through food and agriculture, working on the north Oregon coast and in the Lower Columbia Pacific Region. The River People Farmers Market will return to downtown Astoria in June of 2014. If you are interested in getting involved to help make next season’s farmers market possible, contact North Coast Food Web at (503) 325-8573 or firstname.lastname@example.org.