Farmers market is economic, social anchor for Camas

We’ve been so caught up in covering “graduation season,” we nearly forgot that it’s also “farmers market season.”

While this newspaper winds its way through the printing press, more than 30 vendors will be selling their produce, flowers, baked goods, coffee, wine, soaps and more at the weekly Camas Farmers Market in downtown Camas.

Now in its 12th year, the market runs from 3 to 7 p.m., each Wednesday, now through the first week of October, between Everett and Franklin streets on Northeast Fourth Avenue.

Unlike many farmers markets, which only open on weekend mornings, the Camas market makes it easy for families to pick up fresh produce and other goodies every week. The market is wedged between the Camas Public Library and Camas City Hall, where there is plenty of public parking on nearby side streets most Wednesday afternoons, and it runs until 7 p.m., which gives most working parents a chance to swing by the market on their way home from work or daycare pickups.

If the thought of scoring some crisp organic apples, golden raspberries, made-to-order baklava, farm-fresh eggs or sulfite-free organic wine from the Columbia Gorge doesn’t make people run straight to downtown Camas each Wednesday afternoon in the summer, perhaps the market’s economic benefits will sway folks’ minds:

In 2018, the market averaged 1,319 customers a week and took in $159,265. Research shows that farmers markets tend to funnel one and one-half that amount into the local economy, which means the Camas Farmers Market brought about $239,000 into the local economy in 2018.

Research on farmers markets shows they provide economic stability since many vendors come from established farms and are less likely to relocate, and also help “incubate” small businesses in small communities like Camas.

In fact, the Camas market has been the starting point for several small businesses, including the Soap Chest, 9 bar espresso, Brush Prairie Raw Honey, Conan’s Hot Sauces and Marinades, Hello Waffle and One Earth Botanical.

The market also acts as a gateway to healthier eating for children and families that might have fewer resources for fresh, organic foods.

Tina Eifert, the market’s program coordinator, told the Camas City Council in May that market organizers are committed to increasing access to low-income families in the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and are working with the Washington State Farmers Market Association to help increase access and emphasize healthy living for SNAP clients and children. A recent $10,000 grant from the 100 Women Who Care group will help the market provide nutrition education programs and incentives and support healthy food access for lower-income families the Camas-Washougal community.

Eifert and Shannon Van Horn, the market’s board president, told city councilors the market seems to have hit a “sweet spot,” and organizers are trying to make the market “the best it can be.”

“Other farmers market coordinators have to push against their city (officials) to get permits, etcetera,” Eifert told councilors at a May 6 council workshop. “I’m reminded each year of how thankful we are to the city of Camas … and our sponsors and local businesses.”

If there is one area in which the farmers market could improve, it’s by garnering more volunteers for the market’s set-up and tear-down times.

“People ask us, ‘When will we expand our footprint?’ and the answer is, ‘As soon as we get more volunteers,'” Eifert told city councilors.

If you haven’t been to the farmers market in downtown Camas, we urge you to check it out some Wednesday afternoon or early evening this summer. And if you have any free time between 1 and 2:30 p.m. or 7 and 8 p.m. to help set-up or tear-down the market, its coordinators could definitely use your help.

“We pay with clapping and love and, sometimes, fruit or cookies,” Eifert said.

For more information about the farmers market, its vendors or its volunteer and donation opportunities, visit camasfarmersmarket.org.