Farmers markets in winter?
Weekend farmers markets in Seattle's University District and in West Seattle will operate during January and February this winter, an experiment...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Weekend farmers markets in Seattle's University District and in West Seattle will operate during January and February this winter, an experiment to gauge consumer interest after a year of record sales.
Most farmers markets run from late spring to early fall, but many vendors have stretched the season by a few weeks. And business has been so impressive that many farmers and food vendors want to sell during cold, wet January and February and find out if there is enough consumer support to open every weekend year-round.
"We know the weather will play a role — the rain, the sleet, [but] we surveyed the farmers ... and the vendors, and there was enough interest," said Chris Curtis, who runs the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which manages six Seattle neighborhood markets, including those in the University District and West Seattle.
Although the pedestrian traffic drops during January and February, many vendors believe the customer base is large enough in King County to keep the markets open all year.
By one standard — the average daily sales per vendor — the University District market, which is open Saturdays, and the West Seattle market, open Sundays, rank among the state's most successful neighborhood markets, according to the Washington State Farmers Market Association, which tracks sales figures.
Last year's sales figures show that vendors' average daily sales were about $1,000 in the University District and $750 in West Seattle.
This year, annual total sales are expected to be up 12 percent in West Seattle and 6 percent in the U District, according to projections from the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance.
Winter farmers markets in Seattle
University District: open 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday, Dec. 31 to Feb. 25, at University Way Northeast and Northeast 50th Street. The market won't be open Dec. 24.
West Seattle: open 10 a.m. to noon every Sunday, Jan. 8 to Feb. 26, at Southwest Alaska Street and California Avenue Southwest. The market won't be open Dec. 25 or Jan. 1.
Ballard: open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, year-round, at 5300 Ballard Ave. N.W.
After the winter season, administrators will review the sales figures and survey the farmers to decide whether to go year-round like the farmers market in Ballard. Currently, Seattle markets typically start in May or early June and go as late as mid-December. The markets in both the University District and in West Seattle will shut down after the weekend of Dec. 17 but then reopen for a winter season.
Across the state, many farmers markets are considering extending their seasons by a few weeks because the demand has been so high.
Leading the region
Washington has 89 farmers markets, the most in the Northwest, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show. Those markets will post a combined $25 million in sales this year, surpassing last year's record total by $3 million, according to the Washington State Farmers Market Association.
King County has about two dozen markets and some of the state's highest sales volumes, the Seattle-based nonprofit group reported.
For instance, Lake Forest Park's market tallied $355,000 in sales for its first season, which ended in October, a state record for a farmers-market debut, the association reported.
In Tukwila, a new summer market was such a big hit during a six-week trial that organizers extended it a month and plan to open longer next year.
Auburn, Des Moines and Sammamish, as well as Seattle neighborhoods such as Phinney Ridge and Greenwood, are considering opening markets.
Some fear Seattle will become oversaturated with such markets.
But Curtis, of the six-market Alliance group, believes the public can support even more. "We are still seeing an increase in shoppers and sales to farmers," she said. "The customer base is there."
The push to extend the season also shows the evolution of farmers markets, many farmers said. A market is not just a place to buy basil, blueberries and lettuce anymore.
Bakeries and other food startups test products or build customer bases there before opening stores. Many cheese and meat producers sell there now. And more farmers are branching out with dried fruit, jams and other products.
Rockridge Orchards of Enumclaw will introduce a new line of hard cider at the University District and West Seattle markets next year.
Daylight is short in winter, noted Judy Bennett of Rockridge Orchards, but "this is real opportunity for us." Winter winds? "We've just got to make sure we tie the canopy down."
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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