VBJ: What is the current status of the Salmon Creek Farmers Market?
Foster: The Salmon Creek Farmers Market, at the entrance to Legacy Hospital in Salmon Creek, had two markets scheduled in April, on either side of Earth Day, just as we have done for the past five years. We also had scheduled a market presence at the Clark PUD Home & Garden Idea Fair, again as we have done over the past five or six years. All of those events were canceled. The farmers market in Salmon Creek is currently scheduled to open its regular season on June 9 at Legacy – and, at this point, we’re hoping for the best!
VBJ: How is the market likely to look different this year?
Foster: At this point in time, I anticipate an on-time start. I do believe that the new normal will include social distancing, use of masks and gloves, and perhaps somehow limiting the use of currency in favor of alternate methods of transactions. I would expect to strictly enforce all of the above as the entrance to a hospital is a particularly sensitive area. It may be that we limit vendor availability to farm and locally produced food. And it may be that we temporarily move the market activity away from the entrance.
VBJ: Tell me about what you are hearing from your vendors. How are small farms adapting, and how is the SCFM supporting them?
Foster: Many of our farm vendors have turned towards their own farm stands or small CSAs. These do require resources that many of the smaller farms simply don’t have. We are hoping that the markets will return, albeit in limited fashion, in time for some of the smaller farms to find customers for their fresh produce. There is a blessing in that this pandemic is taking place at this time, as opposed to July through September, our harvest season.
VBJ: In what ways have you heard that farmers are innovating during this time?
Foster: Farmers have always had to be innovative, much more so than the public realizes, and always with limited resources. The larger farms, whose businesses included a significant percentage of wholesale, have been seriously impacted by restaurant closures, but they are not quite large enough to enter into the high-volume world of commercial distribution. Some have opened their own farm stores or are opening CSAs. Again, these are the larger farmers who may have enough resources garnered to develop, build or buy the infrastructures needed to have successful farm stores, CSAs, etc. Fortunately, we are not in the high harvest season of SW Washington and we are hoping that by the time berry season is upon us, the worst will be behind us.
All that I have chatted with are questioning what to plant. In this time of uncertainty, some are cutting back on plans for additional crops or more of a specific crop.
VBJ: What does your crystal ball say about the long-term ramifications for the farmers market? Will the pandemic ultimately change the way it operates?
Foster: My guess is that farmers markets, and I mean true farmers markets whose major draw is the availability of locally produced, fresh food, will be strengthened. And that’s because I want to believe that the public, during this pandemic, will build an awareness of locally produced food – given the lack of decent product on grocery shelves, or the need to stay away from large gatherings of grocery shoppers. Farmers markets can provide easy access to locally produced, fresh, nutrient-dense food. I applaud state officials for claiming that farms and farmers markets remain essential during this time. I think it brings home to many what they never realized before: that farms are essential; not just the big corn producers in the Midwest, but the blueberry farms up the road in La Center, or the eggs, lettuce, beets, tomatoes and cucumbers that we can get from our local farmers in Ridgefield.
Local farms have three primary challenges facing them these days: public policy that works against farm businesses or does not support agriculture (this includes immigration issues), climate change and land-use pressures. Clark County farmers are not immune to any of this and, in fact, are harder hit than most due to population growth in our neck of the woods. I have found these small farm owners – our neighbors – to be among the smartest, most passionate, creative individuals I’ve ever met. I am very proud to call many of them close, dear friends. I think any of us who run farmers markets feel the same, and along with several groups who work alongside us in an effort to create a strong, sustainable food system in Clark County, we are working constantly to preserve the land that these farmers depend upon and the businesses that they manage.
I might add that we are concerned about the food needs for the community in general. The community is lacking a one-shop list of resources for people who are struggling with loss of income and not enough money for decent food. SNAP is a possibility, but that system is facing cuts – and is an unknown. It would be a great project for one of our food-movement partners to work with the Clark County Food Bank to put out a one-stop list of pantries, churches, support groups, companies that are serving that need.