Keeping farms alive, healthy and sustainable

Farmers markets in Clark County collaborate to bring customers the best of farms, food producers

Hands holding dirt
Ann Foster
ANN FOSTER Salmon Creek Farmers Market, Clark County Food System Council and Friends of Clark County

The best of Clark County’s farms can be found in the availability of fresh produce at our local farmers markets.

At one time, there was only one – in downtown Vancouver, on the weekends.

Now, seven farmers markets dot the landscape throughout the week, beginning in spring and extending into the fall, harvest days. These markets each reflect the individual characteristics of its neighborhood, offering the social benefits of community as well as the diverse products that are grown and produced in our region.

The Camas Farmers’ Market, on Wednesday afternoons, brings Camas residents together on its quaint, shady main drag with family activities, and a focus on educating its public on healthy choices. Salmon Creek’s market, during the day on Tuesdays, is at the entrance to Legacy Hospital where Legacy’s medical professionals make up the core of customers, along with regulars from who enjoy the vibe of a very local market, with high-quality product. Ridgefield enjoys a Saturday-day market, in downtown Ridgefield, again bringing local Ridgefield residents together in the historic center of this small-town USA.

And Vancouver’s market on Saturdays and Sundays is well-known throughout the countyas a 25-year staple in the community. By far, Clark County’s largest market, and one of the larger markets in the state, the Vancouver Farmers Market has offspring mid-day on Wednesdays at Esther Short Park, and Thursdays in East Vancouver in the afternoon at the Columbia Tech Center.

At the heart of all the farmers markets in the county is a passion for supporting and nurturing farm businesses and small-food businesses in the region. The importance of this support to the long-term viability of farming cannot be understated, as farming and ag land are under siege by intense pressures from development – and see little support from local public policy. Farmers markets bring customers who, in turn, become aware of local producers; each year we see an increase in the success of CSAs (community supported agriculture), u-picks, farm stands and farm tours.

Keeping our farms alive, healthy and sustainable has become a priority for organizations such as Friends of Clark County, the Clark-Cowlitz Farm Bureau, Clark County Food System Council, Slow Food of SW Washington and WSU Extension Services – all of whom work very hard in educational, economic and social ways to strengthen the heart and soul of farming in Clark County.

Keeping a farm business alive is more than simply making ends meet. Consequences of a dying ag sector mean a loss of livability in the region. We know that the population of the region is dramatically increasing and in large part because we are blessed with clean water, clean air, open lands, panoramic views, easily accessible trails, parks, locally produced food and a solid school system. Losing farmers means losing farmland, and this translates into sprawl bringing with it the loss of livability: clogged roads, overtaxed infrastructure, loss of wildlife and acres upon acres of back-to-back houses – with a few strip malls mixed in.

Farmers markets work together and meet regularly to share, leverage and problem solve. The coalition of markets partners with Sea Mar clinics on WIC programs, the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities in SW Washington for food-assistance programs for seniors, Clark County Public Health and the Clark County Food Bank, all in an effort to reach all segments of the population, in particular, the under-resourced. As a case in point, under the guidance of WSU Extension, the markets are joint participants of a USDA grant providing matching funds for SNAP customers; this grant offers an extra $5 to use at the market for the purchase of fruits and vegetables.

Farmers markets in Clark County collaborate to bring you, the customer, the best of Clark County’s farms and food producers, to honor the ag heritage of the region, to sustain a healthy community and allow your dollars to flow directly into the pockets of the folks who provide you with local, fresh, sustainably grown food for you and your families.

Ann Foster is an organizer of the Salmon Creek Farmers Market, a member of the Clark County Food System Council and is on the board of the Friends of Clark County. She can be reached at annfoster5093@gmail.com.

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