PORT ANGELES — It’s like an ecosystem under The Gateway pavilion, where everybody affects everybody else.
And like its counterparts around the country, the Port Angeles Farmers Market has “a lot of love — and we’re hoping the money will follow,” said Colleen Donovan, a member of the team that will conduct a quick study of Saturday’s market.
Donovan, a researcher with Washington State University’s Small Farms Program, will query and count the shoppers who come through the market from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in what’s called a “rapid market assessment.”
This is an effort to provide market manager Cynthia Warne, as well as the 29 vendors who make the Saturday scene, with data that will help them prosper.
“There’s no fat on the bone” in terms of farmers-market revenue, Donovan said in an interview from her Ellensburg office Thursday.
The Port Angeles Farmers Market has been going since the mid-1970s, and for much of that time, its vendors have struggled to expand their clientele, fighting the perception that organic produce is too expensive and the North Olympic Peninsula too chilly for local food through the winter.
Port Angeles’ market, however, is full of tough growers — and a diverse menu of vegetables, fruit, herbs, grass-fed beef, local cheeses and seafood.
And this market is one of only a few in Washington state that run year-round.
The others are in far more urban places: Pike Place, Ballard and the University District in Seattle, West Seattle and Olympia.
That year-round routine, Donovan said, makes this town interesting to the WSU team.
Among those who will join her for Saturday’s rapid assessment are farmers market managers from Pike Place, Poulsbo, San Juan Island and Sequim.
Together with local market board members Patty Hannah and Sherry Weed, the team will observe the market environment and vendor mix and invite shoppers to answer a handful of questions.
What’s the main reason you come to the farmers market? About how much do you spend at the market itself and how much at other downtown businesses? What would you like to see added to the market?
When asked whether farmers market customers mind being surveyed, Donovan replied: “They love it. We set it up, and people do it on their own without us even asking.”
Port Angeles is the second Washington state market to be given a rapid assessment this summer.
The first was July 23 in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, which turned out to be busier beyond early estimates.
There, managers Candace Jagel and Anna Coffelt had figured about 800 people shopped at their Saturday market.
During the WSU team’s visit three weeks ago, the count was 2,000 customers.
And they spread their dollars around in what Donovan called the spillover effect.
In Friday Harbor, the average farmers market shopping group spent $20 at the three-hour market and another $36.71 at nearby businesses.
In Port Angeles, Warne figures she sees 500 to 600 customers. Donovan said such estimates are almost always lower than reality.
The rapid-assessment results will be delivered to Warne within a month, Donovan said.
They will be part of a report that also offers constructive comments on how the manager and board can promote and grow the market, in vendors as well as shoppers.
“It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question,” Donovan said. “You need shoppers to attract the vendors and vendors to attract the shoppers.”
Warne, for her part, believes the Port Angeles market is on its way up.
Under The Gateway roof at Front and Lincoln streets, the farmers, artisans and restaurateurs are more visible than ever, she said.
And in April, thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the market added a credit-card-and-tokens system to widen its clientele.
With the system, food stamps recipients can now use their electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, cards to shop for groceries — year-round Saturdays or during the summertime Wednesday farmers market.
The midweek market runs from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday through Sept. 21.
And by 3:15 p.m. this Wednesday, Warne had already issued tokens to four EBT shoppers.
On a typical Saturday, she sees six to eight using their cards.
“The large majority are young, I would say under 30. They’re college students or young parents,” Warne said, adding that she expects to see more such shoppers once Peninsula College’s fall quarter starts next month.
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at email@example.com.