South Whidbey Tilth, one of the island’s oldest farmers market, will switch from Saturdays to Sundays this spring.
The market, between Bayview and Freeland, will launch its new schedule May 1, spokeswoman Susan Prescott, a Tilth council member, said Thursday. Sunday hours will be from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Prescott said the change is designed to avoid competition with the larger Bayview Farmers Market at Bayview Corner, which also operates on Saturdays six months each year.
“This should provide more opportunity for consumers, and for vendors to make produce available,” she said of the switch. “A lot of people have had a hard time getting to the market on Saturday.”
As part of the change, Prescott said the group plans to revert to its original name, South Whidbey Farmers Market. The market, founded in 1972 in Clinton, became affiliated with Tilth, an agriculture education association, in 1982.
The market spent 18 years at Bayview Corner before securing its current 11 acres at Highway 525 and Thompson Road in 2000.
Besides the seasonal weekly market, South Whidbey Tilth offers a demonstration garden and classes in crafts and organic agriculture. On market days, it typically features live music, craft displays and activities for children along with the fruits, vegetables and flowers for sale in its collection of little red-and-white booths.
“Tilth is all about healthy food and providing an opportunity for farmers and gardeners to learn and to market their produce,” Prescott said.
She said that the market will continue to be associated with Tilth, although the new organizational structure is yet to be worked out. The switch to Sunday was agreed upon during the first of several planned strategy meetings this week in Freeland.
Prescott said about 20 people attended the session, including consumers, vendors and musicians.
“It was a very good turnout,” she said. “We exchanged a lot of ideas.”
Prescott said that on peak weekends during the season, the market has accommodated about a dozen vendors, who pay a $35 base fee and 10 percent of the profits to the association. She said Tilth handles details such as insurance and land issues.
Prescott said business has declined during the past few years, perhaps in part because of the Bayview market, which is the first one encountered by off-island weekend visitors disembarking from the ferry at Clinton.
She said the past year’s limited growing season due to a cold and wet spring also affected the market’s productivity.
“It’s one of those catch-22s,” Prescott said. “If you don’t have the volume of vendors, people and vendors stop coming. We hope to build the numbers back up.”
Prescott said any lingering feelings about the market’s move from Bayview “is water under the bridge,” and that the market maintains a positive relationship with its Bayview counterpart.
She said that with the switch, the two markets should be able to share more vendors, and the Sunday schedule will give South End vendors a place to sell on that day without going off-island.
Shirlee Read, president of the Bayview Farmers Market, agreed that the Tilth’s switch to Sundays may help both groups.
“We feel there’s some real potential here, not only for customers but for vendors who are looking for other days to sell,” she said Thursday. “It’s a positive. I think diversification is very good.”
Read said the much larger Bayview Market has as many as 70 vendors during peak summer weekends. Like the Tilth market, it operates from May through October.
Read said the Bayview market would be happy to provide space for Tilth vendors on Saturday, after the switch.
“Farmers are always welcome at our market,” she said.
About 10 miles up the road at the Greenbank Farmers Market, however, the jury is still out on Tilth’s impending switch.
“We’ve been for years the only market on Sunday,” said Virginia Bloom, executive director of Greenbank Farm. “We have been offering the Saturday vendors a place to go.”
Bloom said she has yet to talk with Tilth members, but she recognizes the possibilities.
“Maybe we’re far enough apart from each other that we can each have a decent draw,” she said. “It could work to both our benefits if the markets are on the same day. We’ll have to see how things work out.”
Prescott said the Tilth council will continue to fine-tune its plan during the next few months. She said one possibility is to continue to use a rotation of volunteers to run the market, rather than hire a full-time manager.
Volunteers managed the market this past year, and there was no drop-off in revenue, Prescott said.
“We hope to shift to a vendor-driven organization,” she added.
For more information about South Whidbey Tilth, call Prescott at 360-678-4168.