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Oak Harbor Market opening for 20th year
The land on which Sheila Case-Smith grows tomatoes, rhubarb and other produce has been farmed in her family since 1898.
Yet, despite more than a century worth of tilling the soil, a familiar problem still continues to surface on occasion.
“Even after 116 years, we still are growing a great crop of rocks,” she joked Monday.
Case-Smith will be among a group of Whidbey Island farmers who will be appearing at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market season opener from 4-7 p.m. Thursday in the park next to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce visitor center.
It’s the 20th consecutive year of the market, which the Case-Smith family helped get off the ground, along with other farmers.
The market is going back to its roots with a name change more representative of what the non-profit vendor member cooperative wants it to symbolize.
“Membership voted this year to change the name to Oak Harbor Farmers Market so we can be clear to what we are,” said Peg Tennant, manager of the Oak Harbor and Coupeville farmers markets.
The former name, the Oak Harbor Public Market, didn’t properly represent that, Tennant said.
“A lot of folks think it’s a flea market or a food market,” Tennant said. “We wanted to get the word out that we are a farmers market.”
That means products for sale are required to be “homemade, home grown or handmade,” Tennant said.
She expects local farmers, crafters and some new vendors to be on hand.
She anticipates some new crops, such as leafy greens to be available and suggests customers make inquiries if they don’t see them out because new regulations require them to be kept in cool temperatures.
“They have to be kept at 41 degrees,” Tennant said. “Just because there won’t be a table full does not necessarily mean a farmer is sold out. It just means they are being kept cool.”
Case-Smith, her husband Michael and son Peter have been working their farm to get ready for the opener.
Peter, 19, said he’s been going to the market “since I was born.”
He was busy planting heirloom tomatoes on a portion of the family’s 90-acre farm, yet also managed to take time to sword fight with his mother with a stalk of rhubarb on a warm, sunny afternoon.
“The rhubarb make great protective devices,” Sheila Case-Smith said.
She planned to bring rhubarb to the market, along with a variety of young heirloom tomato plants that she grew in her greenhouse and has been “hardening off,” or getting them acclimated to cooler outdoor temperatures.
The Case-Smiths have been farming the family property on Case Road since 1976.
The warm summer last year resulted in an excellent tomato crop and Sheila Case-Smith is hoping for a repeat this year.
“Last year was a real tomato summer,” she said. “We estimated that we took over a half ton of tomatoes to market over six to seven weeks.
“This year looks good.”
The Oak Harbor Farmers Market will run every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. through September.
Tennant said strawberries are about six weeks away from coming to market.
“We just need constant sunshine,” she said.