At the Market: The Farmers’ Market takes friendship, features to new levels

Farmers’ markets are where we run into friends we haven’t seen in ages, where we meet our friends for breakfast first at The Alibi, where we get to visit with our favorite farmers who have, over the years, become friends, and where we meet new friends.

Fresh veggies and fruits are a bonus to the friend thing.

It’s hard to imagine going to a farmers’ market without the experience of exchanging smiles and good conversation, whether it’s with a stranger who is admiring the same gorgeous bell peppers, or just walking by a group admiring a new baby. It’s a happy place and in many senses of the word, a productive one.

HEALTHY & LOCAL Colleen Austin and Laura Hughes at the Farmers’ Market info booth. Janine Volkmar | Union

Now folks have an opportunity to be even more friendly. The North Coast Growers’ Association, that super non-profit organization that keeps all our markets happening, has announced a new group for 2018, the Friends of the Farmers Market.

Market stall fees and vendor membership dues do support the basic operations of the markets, but there’s more to do to bring local food to everyone. Several programs are already in place: the doubling match for folks who use CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps; the SSI Market Match Voucher program; vouchers for low-income seniors; and vouchers for families who receive WIC.

These programs are popular but sometimes the funds run out before the end of the season. Several foundations have supported them but the new Friends of the Farmers Market will keep these programs running strong.

It’s a win/win both for folks who sometimes cannot afford fresh food and for the farmers who produce and sell the food.

In addition, other programs promote nutrition education for everyone and education farm tours for elementary students.

Here’s an example: a good friend shared the thought that she could afford either her prescription medicine co-pays or fresh produce at the market, but not both. Because she is disabled, her main source of income is SSI. That meets her basic needs but not much else. She isn’t eligible for CalFresh because of her SSI income. The market dollars she gets every month have made it possible for her to buy fresh bok choy, strawberries and local potatoes, all food she loves but would consider beyond her budget. She loves shopping at the market and talking with the farmers too.

“The Market Match vouchers are spent the most,” Laura Hughes, Arcata and McKinleyville farmers’ markets manager said. Hughes and Colleen Austin, outreach coordinator, can be found at the market information booth every week. They make it easy for folks to get their market vouchers and wooden coins and to sign up for programs right there. “We can do the applications on the spot,” Austin said, “through an awesome new app.”

At a recent Saturday market on the Arcata Plaza, I watched Austin do just that, making it easy and pleasant for each person she helped. That’s a true farmers’ market welcome.

There are several ways to become a Friend. Community members can join at three funding levels – Marigold, $50 sponsorship; Sunflower, $100; and Dahlia, $250 and above. They all come with such cool premiums as those beautiful market posters with the Alan Sanborn paintings, and decals and more premiums as the level goes up.

More importantly, membership comes with the knowledge of helping those in need have access to healthy local foods. “Donors could earmark for $250; Cayenne, $500; or Habanero, $1,000. Again, these sponsorships come with premiums and recognition on the website and the market kiosk.

Another way to support the market is to sponsor the performance of a live band, both on the Plaza and at the weekday markets in McKinleyville, Fortuna, Eureka and Willow Creek. Music makes the markets more festive and supporting local musicians is another plus. Music sponsorships bring recognition for your business in many ways and start at $175 up to $1,000.

To find out more about joining these new groups, ask at the information booth or visit the new, improved website, It’s fun to navigate and packed with great info on local food producers. Check out the listing of bands for the Arcata Plaza performances. (Spoiler alert, my old friend, Earl Thomas, will be playing on Saturday, May 5. Thomas, a former resident of Trinidad, now tours Europe bringing the Blues to fans from Prague to Barcelona. It’s always great when he comes back home to play for us.)

See you at the markets, Friends!

Janine Volkmar has been writing the At the Market column for years and welcomes suggestions for future columns. [email protected].



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