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Farm-fresh food for 30 years

With humble beginnings near a bowling alley, the Coupeville Farmer’s Market is celebrating a milestone this year.

The popular, Central Whidbey market will start celebrating its 30th year when it kicks off the season April 5.

The popular farmers market provides a place for residents and tourists alike to learn about and buy fresh, locally-grown food and plants produced on Whidbey Island. Currently between 32 and 38 vendors sell their food, arts, crafts and plants during the Saturday market.

However, that is a far cry from the first year the market opened. Back then, it was held next to Ebey Bowl on Terry Road and about a half dozen farmers participated, said Sheila Case-Smith, a farmer who sold goods during the market’s first years.

“We’re really proud that the Coupeville market has been going as long as it has,” Case-Smith said.

She said direct marketing to the public was kind of an experiment back then, but it turned out to be a good way to get fresh food to shoppers and build a sense of community.

The farmers market spent a short time near the now-empty bowling alley. It soon moved into the parking lot next to the old courthouse and, over the years, it also found itself in the field next to town hall before moving to its current spot in the field near the library.

While the current field isn’t as centrally located as the Main Street spot, venders love the field because it provides room to grow and plenty of parking.

The numbers seem to bear that out. The farmers market had a record season last year. It earned just a little less than $178,000, which comes to approximately $1,650 an hour, said Peg Tennant, market manager.

She said she is expecting a busier year with more venders participating.

What Case-Smith enjoys about the market is the family atmosphere. She can catch up with the family news of other farmers and customers.

“There’s a real feel of family that comes between vendors and customers,” Case-Smith said.

Farmers market folks are planning some events throughout the season, which goes until October, but they hope to make sure every Saturday is unique.

“We’re choosing to say every day is special at the market,” Tennant said.

She said there are plans for a founders day event, in which the original farmers market members will be invited for a visit. A date hasn’t been set yet. Special events, such as a plant sale extravaganza near Mother’s Day, are scattered throughout the year.

The farmer’s market has been a way for local producers to expand their selection as they meet local customers’ needs.

Dorothy Mueller of Bell’s Farm, and president of the Coupeville Farmer’s Market, said the markets have been a boost to business even when the market isn’t taking place. When they don’t purchase at the market, they know they can buy produce from the stand located at Bell’s farm on West Beach Road.

“It’s an outlet for our produce so they know it’s fresh,” Mueller said.

With the market opening Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., farmers are busy preparing for the first day. Being early in the growing season, Tennant said there will be a somewhat limited selection of produce, including potatoes, chard, lettuce and cabbage.

But it’s always a great time for gardeners to attend the farmers market. The quality selection of plants is a cornerstone to the market’s business.

As the season continues, the selection of available produce changes as the selection of produce and other goods grows. That selection varies from corn and squash to strawberries, all locally grown.

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