Cancellation of popular plant and garden fair impacts local vendors, Downtown Camas Association

Annual fair typically draws thousands to downtown Camas on the Saturday before Mother's Day, raises $12K for downtown merchants association

(Post-Record file photo) A sign at a past Plant and Garden Fair in downtown Camas shows varieties of lavender sold by Lacamas Lavender Farm, a longtime plant and garden fair vendor.

(Photo courtesy of Lacamas Lavender Farm) A photo on the Lacamas Lavender Farm's Instagram site shows the farm's booth at the 2019 Plant and Garden Fair in downtown Camas.

(Post-Record file photo) Nancy Watson, co-owner of Lacamas Lavender Farm (right), helps a customer select herbs at a past Camas Farmer's Market. Watson is a regular vendor at the annual Plant and Garden Fair in downtown Camas. The annual fair, scheduled to take place this weekend, has been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

(Post-Record file photo) A man shops at a past Plant and Garden Fair in downtown Camas. The Downtown Camas Association was forced to cancel this year's fair, traditionally held the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

If it were a normal year — a year devoid of a deadly new coronavirus and the statewide shutdowns it has prompted — Nancy Watson, of Camas, would be in full plant-fair preparation mode right now. 

Instead, Watson and other vendors are adjusting to the cancellation of the Downtown Camas Association’s annual Camas Plant & Garden Fair, originally set to take place tomorrow, Saturday, May 9. 

“We’ve attended the plant and garden fair every single year, except one and that was when I had just had chemotherapy and was sicker than a dog,” Watson said. “We live for this. But they made the absolute correct decision to cancel it.” 

Held in downtown Camas the Saturday before Mother’s Day, the annual plant fair regularly draws thousands of visitors with its wide selection of vendors offering everything from vegetable starts, flowers and trees to garden art, outdoor furniture and Mother’s Day garden-themed gifts. 

For the Downtown Camas Association (DCA), there was no question about the need to cancel this year’s plant and garden fair since the statewide “stay at home” order in Washington meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 will not allow gatherings of more than 50 people until at least mid- to late summer. In Oregon, such gatherings are banned until September. 

Still, the cancellation was not easy for DCA leaders. 

“The fair is a huge fundraiser for us … and for our merchants and vendors,” DCA Executive Director Carrie Schulstad told the Post-Record.

Although the DCA stands to lose out on the roughly $12,000 it typically earns from the Mother’s Day weekend plant fair, Schulstad also is mourning the loss of an event that was “a source of community joy” for the DCA and for downtown Camas merchants.

“For the most part, (the plant and garden fair) vendors are people we only see once a year,” Schulstad said, “so it’s not just the money we’re losing, but the relationships we’re missing.”

Some vendors rely on the annual fair to bring in a good portion of their spring revenues, Schulstad added.
“We have vendors who make $10,000 at this event,” she said. “So this is a loss for them.” 

To help compensate, the DCA has pulled together a list of plant and garden vendors who are selling plants and gifts online at downtowncamas.com/plant-fair-vendor-online-sales.

“Some of the nurseries are doing curbside pickups,” Schulstad added. “We’re hoping this will help our vendors. And we’ve also returned their fees.” 

For Watson, the loss of the annual plant and garden fair has led to a priority shift at her family-run Lacamas Lavender Farm in Fern Prairie. 

Instead of loading plants and starts into a horse trailer and heading to downtown Camas early tomorrow morning to set up hours before the fair opens, Watson has had to figure out other ways to unload the more than 3,500 lavender plants she usually sells at the plant fair. 

“The entire place here is covered by lavender,” Watson told the Post-Record last week. “We looked at what other nurseries are doing — business has been pretty good for other nurseries.” 

Instead of selling plants at the annual downtown Camas fair, Watson and her family will offer their farm’s lavender plants for sale online and make free deliveries up to seven miles away from the Fern Prairie farm. For orders headed to homes outside that 7-mile radius, Watson will arrange for a pickup location in between the two sites. 

The farm’s newly redesigned website, at lacamaslavenderfarm.com, has dozens of plant varieties to choose from, including several varieties of lavender in 3.5-inch, quart and gallon containers; as well as herbs like mint and thyme and container gardens. To order from Lacamas Lavender Farm, visit lacamaslavenderfarm.com/how-to-order.

Despite the loss of the plant and garden fair, Watson said she’s feeling hopeful: other nurseries have been able to sell their plants through creative means that still allow for safe physical-distancing and the spring weather has been the best she’s seen in 38 years of living in the Camas area. 

“This time of year is just so amazing,” Watson said. “It changes day by day. Everything is waking up and the English (lavender) is gorgeous right now. I’m just tickled pink.” 

She’s also not letting the year of the coronavirus closures get her too down. 

“I’m already planning for next year’s plant and garden fair,” she said. “We don’t think of it as work, even though we’re absolutely wiped out afterward. Every year, we get down to the (plant and garden fair) at 5:15 in the morning. We’re usually one of the first ones there and one of the last to leave. We love it. And we’ll be back next year.” 

The DCA has already said the 23rd annual plant and garden fair is now set to take place on May 8, 2021. For more information, visit cwplantfair.org/

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