It’s been a weird year weather-wise for Whidbey Island farmers said Peg Tennant, manager of both the Coupeville and Oak Harbor farmers markets.
“It’s what happens when you work with nature,” she said.
Crops have been capricious, with raspberries ripening while strawberries were still bearing, freak thunderstorms damaging fragile grain, and broccoli still producing in mid-August when hot-weather crops should be center stage.
“One farmer said his corn is tasseling out – even though it’s only waist-high,” Tennant said.
The consensus is that local corn will be scarce this year, but “it’s been a good year for green beans,” she said with a smile.
Loyal market shoppers are philosophical about scarcities, supportive of the farmers’ hard work and practical about planning meals around what’s available, Tennant said.
Fortunately, islanders committed to shopping and eating locally have several farmers markets to choose from. Each has its own personality and dedicated customers.
“It’s not about the competition,” Tennant said. “It’s about supporting local farmers and artisans and keeping our shopping dollars circulating in the community.”
The Coupeville market draw crowds every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We’re in our 34th consecutive season,” Tennant said. “We started the Coupeville market to keep agriculture alive in Island County – and we’re still doing just that.”
The Bayview Farmers Market, also open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, partners with local organizations to keep things interesting.
The market regularly hosts chef demonstrations. The next one is set for Saturday, Sept. 29, when Chef Eli from the Walrus Restaurant in Seattle shows off his own cooking techniques.
On Saturdays in autumn, the Bayview market hosts several events that draw a happy local crowd, including Apple Day and the annual Mutt Strut – basically a parade of costumed dogs and their people – set for Saturday, Oct. 20.
“This season started a little flat, with a few rainy Saturdays that slowed customer traffic, but we’re at our peak from now until the end of October,” said Sharon Warwick, Bayview market director. “Saturday of Labor Day weekend always has our biggest sales of the year.”
Warwick said she likes to have a variety of vendors so customers get to see a fresh mix of products and produce each time they visit.
“It’s like a treasure hunt every week,” Warwick said.
Lynae Slindon, who manages the Tilth Sunday Market near Bayview, said she appreciates the diversity among the Island’s markets.
“The more markets we have, the more we see that each has its own identity and the more we create awareness for buying local,” she said.
On Thursdays through August, the Clinton Farmers Market invites folks to stop by the open lot behind the Dairy Queen between 4 and 7:30 p.m. Locals often stay for dinner, enjoying live music and socializing with neighbors. The addition of a flea market on Aug. 16 was a hit with customers and will likely be repeated.
In North Whidbey, the Oak Harbor Farmers Market, located on Hwy. 20 next to the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center, boasts more than 55 vendors from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday through September. The Oak Harbor market follows the same product mantra as Coupeville: “Homemade, homegrown and handmade.”
The City of Langley hosts a combination market from 3 to 7 p.m. each Friday, with farmers and artists selling side by side. The Second Street Market kicks off the weekend with live music and lively interactions with neighbors and off-island visitors alike.
“Since Langley is a tourist town, there are more crafters there, but this year there are about twice as many farmers as last year,” said Eric Conn of Full Cycle Farm. He maintains a produce booth at the Clinton, Langley and Tilth markets.
The Tilth Market on South Whidbey, going strong for 41 years now, focuses on education and welcoming families to a laid-back experience from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday with live music, demonstrations, experimental gardens and a playground. A children’s playhouse, made of earth, clay, sand and straw, is under construction.
Like Bayview, the Coupeville market often coordinates activities and promotions with other local groups. For example, on Saturday, Sept. 8, the market is hosting the 4th annual Central Whidbey Nonprofit Fair, showcasing local service groups. The fair is organized by the Town of Coupeville and supported by the Coupeville branch of Sno-Isle Libraries.
On the same day, at 12:30 p.m., a photographer from The Whidbey Examiner will shoot the annual community photo.
“The Coupeville library has been an awesome partner, too,” Tennant said. “The Friends of the Library group sells used books at every market and on Saturday, Sept. 15, we’re going to combine our market day with the 50th anniversary celebration of Sno-Isle Libraries.”
Coupeville’s market season ends Oct. 13 with HarvestFest, featuring a giant pumpkin contest and wacky relay races to raise money for Central Whidbey’s Gifts From the Heart food bank.
Tennant said she enjoys the positive energy that takes hold of Coupeville every market day.
“Our markets are important to the community, connecting farmers to consumers and promoting locally grown foods,” she said. “We each try to create community where we are by keeping our friends and neighbors economically viable.”
“One older gentleman says it’s like ‘going to church, but with pie,’” Tennant said with a grin.