Pleasantly surprised by the early opening and glorious weather, scores of happy shoppers perused the goods at the Oak Harbor Public Market Thursday afternoon.
With its location on busy Highway 20, the farmers market didn’t need a lot of advance notice of its 4 p.m. opening. By 4:30, drivers were competing for parking spaces and merchants were selling flowers, greens, food and handicrafts.
Peg Tennant, market manager, said approximately 50 vendors signed up for opening day, which occurred two weeks earlier than usual due in part to the national e-coli spinach scare earlier this spring. Local producers planted more “clean greens” to meet the demand, and now they’re ready for market.
The vendor numbers will only improve as time passes and gardens grow more productive. Last year the market averaged 68 vendors every Thursday as word spread that the Oak Harbor Public Market was a profitable venue.
“This is such a great location,” Tennant said of the wooded area next to the Chamber of Commerce office and North Whidbey Middle School. “It’s just peachy.”
As a member of the Washington State Farmers Market Association, Tennant is careful to keep a good mix of food producers in with the crafts people, artists and food sellers at the Oak Harbor Public Market. Available Thursday were early crops such as spinach, rhubarb, radishes and asparagus.
“We’re committed to 50 percent produce sales as part of total sales,” Tennant said. Last year, the most successful in the market’s history, sales for the 17 summer Thursdays exceeded $200,000, with 60 percent of the total coming from homegrown farm items.
Most of the food sellers are small local farmers, but some come from as far away as Eastern Washington. “You can come over if you have something we don’t have,” Tennant said. But once local produce is ripe, the outsiders are told not to come.
The aptly-named Maryanne Gardener was selling her garden products on Thursday, grown at her home-based Robinsdale Nursery in Oak Harbor. A tableful of colorful annuals, mixed with a few perennials, attracted people like bees. It was early and most folks were just looking. “It’s starting out a little slow, but it’s the first day,” Gardener said. She also sells her products at Hummingbird Farms Nursery.
Market stalwart Dorothy Mueller from Bell’s Farm was busy tying bunches of irises together for sale. Their yellow and purple blossoms proved popular with the shoppers. “Business is brisk,” she said. “We couldn’t ask for a nicer day for the opening.”
Mueller is best known for selling the popular Bell’s Farm strawberries at local markets. Due to poor spring weather the juicy red berries are late this year, she said. The farm just started advertising for pickers. Strawberry lovers can expect to see Bell’s Farm berries by the middle of June, if not earlier.
Tennant announced that the nutrition program starts June 1. It gives low income people a chance to purchase fresh, locally grown produce. Checks are distributed to qualified seniors and others at the site. “You get’em and start shopping,” she said. Stop at the Senior Center for information, or inquire with the Island County Health Department.
The Oak Harbor Public Market will be open each Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. through September. For information call Peg Tennant at 678-4288 or email email@example.com.