S. Whidbey Tilth may drop midweek market

South Whidbey Tilth will resume its Saturday farmers markets despite a less-than-successful summer season.

South Whidbey Tilth will resume its Saturday farmers markets despite a less-than-successful summer season.

The market’s operations on Wednesdays may not be so lucky.

The 11.23-acre sustainable agriculture market, located on Thompson Road and Highway 525, witnessed a 24-percent drop in gross sales between May and October, according to market committee volunteer Susan Prescott.

“Many of the farmers who participated were discouraged, but there were a number of reasons for the lower sales,” Prescott said. “We had more farmers involved, resulting in lower individual sales, the economy was bad and, frankly, we may have been victims of our own success.”

For years, Tilth farmers have been educating people in the value of growing their own produce.

“The number of small farm stands exploded on Whidbey Island this year,” Prescott noted. “It’s wonderful, but it does have an effect on our business.

“In the first five weeks after we opened on May 2, we saw record income but then the weather turned bad and we didn’t recover,” Prescott noted.

She added that one key vendor took a year off — representing $9,000 in sales — but the downward trend continued until Tilth closed at the beginning of October.

Another factor may have been the way Tilth charges vendors. Instead of the previous year’s percentage fee, Tilth charged a flat $10 per day rate, or 10-percent if a vendor had more than $200 in sales.

“Not many farmers had more than $200 on any given Saturday,” Prescott noted.

At an evaluation meeting earlier this month, the governing council took a long look at operations after seeing gross sales drop from $41,000 to $28,000. Total net market income ended up at $3,882, which was used to pay two market managers ($165 per month), musicians, monthly payment for the land, advertising and insurance.

“Some of the questions raised at the meeting included whether Tilth should refocus on educational workshops and service projects within the community and whether to hold several plant sales and harvest festivals,” Prescott said.

She added that the steering committee is recommending the Saturday market continue, but the Wednesday operation is still up in the air.

“And once a month, we’ll have a big event focusing on education and agricultural demonstrations,” Prescott said.

A big influence on the market’s future is the number of volunteers it attracts.

“The market requires a community of volunteers as well as a paid market manager to operate,” Prescott said. She said the tasks include vendor signup, maintaining sales records, setting up signs, tents and banners on the grounds each market day — and take them down — organizing and promoting musical and educational events, mowing, watering and weeding the grounds.

“All this involves a weekly commitment,” she said.

Meanwhile, just a mile down the highway, the Bayview Farmers Market had its biggest year ever overall, though actual farmer’s income remained flat.

Bayview’s rules restricts the number of non-farmers based on how many growers are on hand.

“We added a number of vendors which increased the selection available for customers,” said Bayview farmer representative Loren Imes. “But that diluted individual sales. The economy and the fact that people are growing their own gardens also had an effect.”

He said the close proximity of two farmer’s markets probably works against each, but feels that, provided the recession doesn’t worsen, next year will be even bigger for Bayview.

For more information, or to volunteer, visit www.southwhidbeytilth.org or www.bayviewfarmersmarket.com.