Twin Sisters Farmers Market: A love storyAug 5th, 2016 | Category: Community, Features
by Chris Elder
The idea came during the final months of 2014. We could harvest produce from various farms, load it up on rafts, and float it down the Nooksack to offer various river’s edge farmers markets. Whatcom County has several towns and centers along the river like Nugents Corner, Everson, Lynden, and Ferndale, that all historically served as important sites for the transport of resources via the Nooksack River. Since my farm and a few others are located up in the South Fork Valley, the boat launch at Nugents Corner would be the first market stop going downstream. We started thinking about how to coerce people to buy our river’s edge produce and quickly realized that the idea was ahead of its time and that we should probably consider a more practical and profitable model.
By that point a seed had been planted and the idea wanted to grow. We held a couple brainstorm meetings at the Deming Library and then at Small Acres. Initially we had right around 10 farms interested in participating. But this group needed more than just interest to kickstart a market. We needed some cash. Cue the Community Food Coop’s Farm Fund. All the interested farms helped pitch in on pulling together a vision statement, a game plan, and a grant application. Low and behold, the Farm Fund Committee found merit in our collaboration and sponsored the beginnings of our new market.
We knew that farmers markets had existed in East County before, but for some reason none of them have lasted. We wanted to create a market that could last and could effectively and affordably move fresh food up the valley. So we decided that we would literally move the market up the valley.
The next five months consisted of pulling a forgotten trailer out of the blackberries, buying a load of metal from Z’s Recycling, and welding together our hopes and dreams into a mobile marketplace. We weren’t sure if we would complete the trailer in time, but through some late nights and teamwork, we were ready for the first Saturday in June 2015.
Twin Sisters is built on a foundation of collaboration. Each winter we spend time crop planning, deciding who is going to bring what which week. Inevitably each week doesn’t quite match up with the plan, but it gives us something to aim for. Every market week each farm will bring the produce they signed up for. Based on the number of markets each year (22) divided by the number of farms signed up for the full market season (7) means that each farmer has to work 6.3 markets this season. So each farmer gets the benefit of having their produce at a retail market 22 times but only has to work the market 6 or more times. Additionally, by reducing the labor requirements of each farmer, we have reduced the risk associated with this market venture; this reduced labor cost allows us to sell our produce at more affordable rates.
The farmers of the Twin Sisters Market are aware of risk, especially when considering development of a brand new market. But we also all live in and know the East County. According to the 2014 Foothills Food Summit Report, approximately 21 percent of Foothills households rely on food stamps, 68 percent of elementary students at Kendall Elementary School qualify for free and reduced lunch, and at least 1 in 3 people have low or no access to a grocery store. These statistics and more help frame up a picture of an East County in need of affordable fresh produce. Supporting access to fresh and affordable food is something that all of the Sisters can get behind and is the reason we keep showing up each week.
In 2016 we have finally received our EBT equipment and more than that we have signed up to accept Fresh Bucks as well. Fresh Bucks is a program managed by the Opportunity Council that provides a match 1-to-1 for EBT dollars spent at our market. This means that an EBT customer gets $10 of free produce for every $10 of produce they purchase with their EBT card. It is really a great way to encourage healthy eating and supports local farmers as well.
We have also shuffled our markets a bit this year and are now set up at the Nugents Corner roundabout every Saturday June through October from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center in Kendall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. We no longer haul our mobile marketplace up the valley each Saturday, but set up a market tent in Kendall and leave the flagship trailer parked at Nugents Corner.
This year has been a great market year so far. Sales are improving and we’re making great efforts (with a little help from our friends) at getting the word out to encourage East County residents to purchase produce that is grown where they live. Twin Sisters Market is community effort in every sense of the word. Every Saturday when I go to drop off my produce at the start of the market I am reminded about how a solid team can pull almost anything off. Each week we support each other in getting the market set up and ready for business. Each week I am reminded that we haven’t just created a market, but a community and a group of friends too. We have plenty of room for improvement but things are going well.
Current full member farms of Twin Sisters Market are Small Acres, Slanted Sun Farm, Pachamama Organics, Coyote Bank Farm, Growing Garden, Grateful Bounty Farm, and Sierra’s Farm. Visit our webpage for more information www.twinsistersmarket.com. We are always open to having additional farmers join up or sell certain produce on occasion. We hope to see you there.
Stop by the market
Check out the Twin Sisters Farmers Market every Saturday through October from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Nugents Corner and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center in Kendall. For more information, see www.twinsistersmarket.com.
Published in the August 2016 issue of Grow Northwest