PORT ANGELES — Reaching out to the community, connecting people with their local food farmers and “herding cats”: Those are three things the Port Angeles Farmers Market does exceedingly well, according to the Washington State Farmers Market Association.
The association of 118 markets statewide will make good on that statement this weekend as it bestows the Farmers Market of the Year award in downtown Port Angeles.
The award, announced earlier this month at the state conference in Leavenworth, will be presented formally Saturday at the gathering of food and art vendors, which takes place at The Gateway pavilion at Lincoln and Front streets.
“We were very honored and surprised,” said Cynthia Warne, manager of the market that is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“We want to invite all our vendors and the community to the presentation” at noon.
No prizes or cash come with the award, but farmers market association Executive Director Karen Kinney gave high praise for Port Angeles.
The North Olympic Peninsula’s only year-round market won the top honor for a medium-size operation of 31 to 55 vendors.
Chewelah’s farmers market took the small-size award, while Seattle’s Ballard market won the large-size category.
At last year’s conference, the Port Townsend Farmers Market, which runs April to December, landed the award for large markets of more than 56 vendors.
Kia Armstrong, manager of Nash’s Organic Produce in Dungeness, nominated the Port Angeles Farmers Market for the state award.
Warne “does a fantastic job, both at the market day of, and behind the scenes, herding all the cats,” as in vendors, wrote Armstrong, who’s been one of the “cats” since 2003.
Kinney added that Port Angeles met the award-winning criteria.
The top market must be a place for more than just vending; there also should be activities for shoppers of all ages, and it can’t be just for the well-heeled organic-foodie.
The Port Angeles Farmers Market is accessible to a variety of people, Kinney noted, because it has added a credit-card system to allow shoppers to use food stamps, as well as debit and credit cards, to buy fresh salad greens, strawberries, eggs and such.
Over the past year, the market also mixed in holiday-themed storytelling in December, chef’s demonstrations, booths for local nonprofit groups and live music from bands such as Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys.
And with the First Step Family Support Center in Port Angeles, the market has sponsored economical-cooking classes for young parents.
Kinney also hailed Warne’s website, www.FarmersMarketPortAngeles.com, and her weekly email bulletins.
With bright splashes of color and enthusiasm to match, these tell farmers market shoppers what’s fresh, who new vendors are and how to cook particular kinds of produce.
“It’s wonderful to see a market that is truly a community gathering place,” Kinney said, “where people meet and shop, kids have adventures around good food, and farmers and artisans are at the center.
“It takes a strong market manager spending many, many hours working behind the scenes to build a successful market over time.”
The farmers market is a key part of the local economy — and the community’s future, Kinney believes.
“Farmers need to earn a fair income to keep their land in production,” she said, “and the PAFM is playing an increasingly important role in helping preserve farmland and rural jobs.”
Meanwhile, market vendors have enjoyed increases in sales over the years: 2009’s gross was $305,018, while 2011’s topped $408,000.
To learn more about vending or shopping at the market, phone Warne at 360-460-0361, visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at email@example.com.