BY MARTHA McCARTNEY
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
April 8, 2015
With all the bravado of a start-your-engines-announcer, Peg Tennant, Farmers Market Manager, sang out the questions. “Bell’s Farm, ARE YOU READY?” Then, “Case Farm, ARE YOU READY?”
(Video of the Coupeville Farmer’s Market by John Deir)
She waited for affirmation from the local farmers and, with a hushed audience, loudly declared: “The 2015 Coupeville Farmers Market is now officially open!” The market vendors sent up a hurrah in response.
The combined sounds of banter, music and chatter, the rhythm of corn popping and laughter in those few minutes after opening are the part of market day Peg Tennant loves best. Those minutes after the hush—when motion and business and community thrive—are what seem to drive her, that and her passion for the overall mission of “local.”
“Local” is the buzzword of current Farmers Markets, according to Lisa Phillips of RoundTuit Farms. It is also termed “Market Integrity”—or “know your farmer” as Peg Tennant calls it. Being able to go to a market month after month, year after year, and the ability to actually visit the farms themselves, transforms buying into a personal and trusting relationship—an investment.
Coupeville Farmers Market opened this year on Saturday, April 4 and is now in its 37th season. The Coupeville Market, despite some location changes over those years, is considered the third oldest market in Washington. Selling everything from line-caught salmon to tulle tutus, from organic greens to the always aromatic kettle corn, the market is the place to be on Saturdays in Coupeville.
Neighbors and vendors catch up from the winter after being shut indoors while local shoppers take time to stop and chat, filling bags and baskets brought from home—they are on a mission to get items they know will sell out quickly. During mid-summer, folks line up for berries; early in the season, greens and salmon are tops on shopping lists.
Regulated by the Washington State Farmers Market Association, all farmers markets are required to maintain a balance of more than 50 percent produce or process vendors. “Process” includes products that have been “altered” in a sense, such as honey, cheese, bread, jam, tea and jerky.
These are products that were historically delegated to the farmer’s wife. The farmers market is a European model of food shopping where only enough for the week is purchased fresh.
The WA State Department of Agriculture along with the WA State Legislature and Health Departments enacted some regulations that have caused changes in vendors and how farmers sell at market. A few years ago a regulation passed that disallowed home baking and Tennant reports that the market lost five vendors at that time. Now there are new regulations about the way greens are sold. There are new refrigeration, bagging and labeling requirements. Tennant reports that no food-borne illness has been linked to the market.
Pam LaNua of Cape Cleare Salmon rides her bike from Port Townsend pulling an insulated trailer. She crosses on the ferry and then pulls a steady incline to the middle of town and onto the green behind the Coupeville Library where the market is setting up.
“My partner and I are out on the boat for months at a time, fishing in waters off southeast Alaska. Fishing is all long hours and not much else but hard work,” she said. “We sell fish to restaurants and food cooperatives, which is delivery through the backdoor and sometimes lacks a feeling of connection to the consumer.
“By coming to the market I’m able to know my customers, know what they appreciate and make it more personal,” LaNua continued. “That sense of connection is something I take with me fishing.” LaNua keeps her customers in the loop with a winter delivery service to the Coupeville ferry dock.
The first day of 2015 market season was a bit windy but nothing like the time recalled by Wayne and Deborah Ove of Twigs and Blooms. “It was so windy that we asked a friend to sit in one of our twig chairs under a market umbrella in order to hold it down. A huge gust of wind actually picked up the umbrella, the chair and our friend.”
Brett and Gail Rebischke-Smith are in their eighth season as vendors with their business, Brett’s Bread. He bakes a sweet egg-bread which he describes as a cross between challah and brioche. Brett reported record sales in the first hour of opening day and was fairly certain that they would sell out. Brett’s Bread now operates a storefront on Main Street in Coupeville and the baker credits the Farmers Market for making that possible.
The Coupeville Market has served as incubator for several local successful businesses, according to Tennant, among them Lavender Wind Farm and Three Sisters Farm Market. It’s a place to try out a new business, introduce products and grow a customer base. The market is a non-profit vendor member cooperative which provides the space for others to make money and is run locally by a volunteer board of directors.
The market is open from April to Oct. 11 with hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are several special market days that are popular events— market basket give-away days, several times during the season, when customers are given tickets as rewards for making purchases and are registered to win a sample of market products.
The market also holds a non-profit Fair Day when local organizations have educational booths and fundraising items. Another hugely popular event is Harvest Fest, which includes contests such as the biggest pumpkin and relay races. Harvest Fest 2014 raised $21,000 for the local food bank.
In addition to that monetary donation, at the end of each market day vendors can donate leftover items to the food bank, which arranges a close-of-day pick up.
Sheila Case-Smith of Case Farm has been with the market from the start and also participates in the Oak Harbor Market held on Thursday evenings. She explained one of the differences between these two markets: “Coupeville has a dynamic gardening community. The customers buy bedding plants and like to talk about gardening. I love the exchange of information about the growing process.”
The market does not operate during the weekend of the Coupeville Arts and Craft Fair and will close early if rising winds make conditions unsafe.
In addition to produce, process, art, crafts and hot food vendors, there is a used book sale table that benefits the Coupeville Library. Dogs on leash are also allowed with responsible owners.
“After market opening one week, I was sitting at one of the tables eating a slice of pie and talking to a regular and loyal customer about the sense of community that our market generates. He said ‘It’s like church, only with pie!’ and I have to agree,” Tennant said.
To keep updated on the Coupeville Farmer’s Market please follow them on Facebook and on their website at www.coupevillemarket.com.
Image at top: Sheila Case-Smith of Case Farm has been with the market since the beginning. (photo by Martha McCartney)
Martha McCartney is a writer and photographer, in addition to being a candle maker. She can be found most Saturdays from May to October as a vendor at the Coupeville Farmers Market. She recommends trying the fish tacos.
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