Farmers markets: Important tool for business development

As the market continues to serve emerging businesses, a new need has come to the forefront

Jordan Boldt

Every weekend from March through October, thousands of local residents and visitors congregate in downtown Vancouver. This gathering at the Vancouver Farmers Market (VFM) has been taking place since 1990 and has grown into one of the largest and most successful markets in the region. Many in our community view the market as a great weekly event for their family to attend or a fun place to take out of town guests, and rightly so. However, in addition to providing a safe and welcoming public space for our community to congregate, the VFM finds itself serving as a place for locally owned businesses to launch and develop and a source to serve some of the most under-resourced members of our society.

Locally owned small businesses have long been a cornerstone of a healthy and vibrant community, and with 175 of these businesses as part of its organization, the Vancouver Farmers Market is proud of the role it plays in our growing region.

Farmers markets serve an important businesses development role by providing small startups the opportunity to launch with very low overhead. For the price of their product and any permits, plus some basic equipment, vendors can gain access to over 600,000 customers a summer. No other venue provides this type of interaction with consumers for a startup, and this model has proven very successful for many of these small businesses.

However, as the VFM continues to serve these emerging businesses, a new need has come to the forefront. With all the talk recently of an improving economy, job growth and rising home prices, it is easy to miss the fact that a large portion of our community continues to suffer in many ways. One of the ways clearest to the VFM is around the issue of hunger. Every day in Clark County many families go without sufficient food and more and more students are coming to school hungry and undernourished. The Vancouver Farmers Market is in a position to serve this population and continue its role supporting local farmers and food producers.

Many are aware of federal and state programs to meet these needs – programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These programs provide funding to low-income individuals and families to purchase many of their daily necessities. As a market, the VFM is proud to have worked to allow these benefits to be spent at local farmers markets. In 2015 alone, it is projected that over $40,000 worth of SNAP benefits will have been redeemed at the VFM. In addition, Fresh Match, a local market-run program that matches up to an additional $5 per customer, will contribute at least an additional $5,000. Also, other programs such as the Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Senior/WIC will account for close to $20,000 and additional funds are used to provide nutritional counseling and health education. All of this adds up to $65,000 or more of funding that not only serves to provide fresh and healthy food and education to our local low-income families, but also goes directly to locally-owned small farms and food businesses.

As technology progresses, more and more of the farms you see at the Vancouver Farmers Market will be accepting these benefits directly from consumers, making it easier than ever before for those in need to access the highest quality healthy food, and for the money they spend to go directly to locally owned businesses.

There is still much work to be done though, so while the Vancouver Farmers Market will continue to be a place where everyone from our community can gather for great products in a great public space, it will simultaneously be striving to serve those in need and provide an environment that grows local farms and food producers in Clark County for the health of the entire community.

Jordan Boldt is the executive director of the Vancouver Farmers Market. He can be reached at j.boldt@vancouverfarmersmarket.com.

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