Tilth marks 30 years of Whidbey farmers' markets

"Possibly the youngest vendors at the South Whidbey Tilth Farmer's Market are these purveyors of Sudsy Budsy Island Soap, Annie Wescott, 10, left, and Laurel Johnson, 11. The girls make the brightly colored soaps in various shapes, and said they do pretty well at the market.Joan Soltys, staff photoThirty years of Farmers' Markets on South Whidbey will be celebrated Saturday, July 7, beginning at 10 a.m. at South Whidbey Tilth, located at Thompson Road and Highway 525. A special program will begin at 11 a.m. to introduce market founders Twomey Orr Twomey and Rose Dobson. Former state representative Dave Anderson will speak about the importance of sustainable agriculture, and musicians Steve Showell, Joanne Rouse, and Vern Olsen will provide live music.In 1971 Clinton resident Myrna Orr Twomey and her husband, Sean, were raising five children. They were constantly challenged to make ends meet on South Whidbey. We were broke; it was a perpetual thing, Twomey said. However, they raised a lot of food on their farm and even had a surplus. Twomey's parents owned property on Highway 525 just below Bob Galbreath Road, where chainsaw artists now create their works. Each year the Kiwanis had set up a fireworks booth on the lot. By the July 4 weekend of 1971, fireworks sales were over, and the Twomeys arranged to use the booth to launch a farmers' market for the rest of the summer. It was the fledgling ancestor of today's South Whidbey Tilth Farmers' Market, which will celebrate its 30-year history on Saturday.Susan Prescott, longtime South Whidbey Tilth member, tells the story of Myrna Twomey approaching the members of her buying cooperative and asking them to bring their extra garden produce to sell at the booth. Rose and Jerry Dobson, who had recently moved to Whidbey and had a huge garden, joined the Twomeys and sold consistently over the next 12 years: Jerry Dobson was a veteran salesman as well as a produce manager.The market soon attracted other growers. Carl and Verna Colella got involved. Carl Colella had grown up in an Italian truck farming community and had retired to Whidbey after a career of vending at the Pike Place Market.Althea Coffin, a retired chemist, always came and always brought produce to sell, though it was a modest amount. The market was the highlight of her week, Myrna Twomey said.Markets are usually community gathering places, and John Metcalf, father of former Congressman Jack Metcalf, often came and usually had a lot to say, Prescott remembered.Chris Matzen was another frequent vendor. He took the time to go huckleberry picking, and he not only picked them, he also cleaned them. Myrna remembers his little baskets of fruit as works of art, Prescott said.In June 1982, Myrna Twomey, Rose and Jerry Dobson and Althea Coffin attended a meeting of local people interested in forming a Tilth chapter, and South Whidbey Tilth was born. The following spring, Twomey and the Dobsons proposed that Tilth assume sponsorship of South Whidbey Farmers' Market. The location in Clinton was no longer available, said Prescott, so the new group approached Bill Lanning, owner of the Bayview Cash Store, about relocating the market there. Lanning welcomed the idea.Rose Dobson was editing the newsletter at the time, Prescott said. She wrote in the April issue, 'Everybody is hereby alerted to plant an extra row or two so you'll have a surplus to sell next summer at the market.'In the June 1983 newsletter Dobson reported, As of this writing, the framework of the building at Clinton has been torn down, hauled to its new location in the parking lot [at Bayview]. A plastic stapling party is even now getting under way. Opening day is set for this Saturday, June 18.And two months later she reported, Despite a persistent case of plastic panel collapse, the market is prospering, and customers are standing in line for fresh produce and flowers. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the word is that we need more produce.According to Prescott, a committee was set up early in 1984 to design and locate a sturdier market booth. Jerry Hill coordinated most of the construction, Prescott said. He secured permits for a pole building -- the same building now used by vendors Frank Parente and Sally Nelson.A work party was organized to pour concrete and nail up the frame and plywood. Michael Seraphinoff's donkey hauled poles out of the woods for the frame. The market opening was delayed until June 23 that year.South Whidbey Tilth rented the land and operated the Farmers' Market at Bayview for the following 16 years. When the land changed hands, a member of Tilth offered to sell a parcel on Thompson Road and Highway 525 to the organization at reasonable terms. The land creates an opportunity to have a secure base for the continuation of the farmers' market as well as to demonstrate the organization's purpose: biologically sound, socially equitable agriculture, Prescott said.Both the Tilth Farmers Market and the new market at Tilth's former location at Bayview are enjoying the success created by the renewed interest in locally grown produce, flowers and now handmade crafts and art, and both have expanded to include a mid-week market, complete with gourmet dinners. Shoppers are also entertained by live music and kids activities, making farmers markets even more inclusive as they enter their fourth decade. "

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