Washington farmers grow community, revenue downtown

Every Thursday from June through October, Tacoma’s Theater District is transformed. The sidewalks are jammed with merchants and streets are blocked to car traffic as farmers from all over Washington converge on the Tacoma Farmers Market.

The market’s array of handcrafted artisan breads, freshly picked fruits and vegetables, fresh flowers, quality hand-made gifts, and live music has drawn Tacoma residents and downtown employees to Broadway, between 9th and 11th, for nearly fifteen years.

“Farm sales have gone through the roof,” said market Director Melisa Evangelos, during a visit to the event last week. “We have more farmers and more produce representatives than ever before. Things have been particularly well this year.”

An early berry season was one reason for this year’s success. Farmers were able to get fresh berries to customers sooner than usual.

Community outreach was another reason. This year, the market introduced programs to assist specific demographics, and welcome them to the market. Women, infants, and children of low-income backgrounds could take advantage of the “WIC” coupons. The program offered savings and promoted healthy eating. It also expanded the market’s clientele and community reach. A similar program was established specifically for seniors. Both programs brought first-time visitors to the market.

The market was started in 1990, when two area residents, Marcia Moe and Norma Honeysett, were concerned with the “deserted, needle-strewn” image of the city. Moe and Honeysett (along with a crew of volunteers) formed the market to dispel the perception that downtown was an empty and unsafe place, create a sense of community by means of a market that provided fresh, high-quality produce, and established a lively street atmosphere around Antique Row and the Theater District. When the Market opened in the summer of 1990, there were less than 30 vendors. Today there are over 100 vendors that draw an average 5,000 customers each week during its season. Last year the market reported over $500,000 in sales.

According to Evangelos, nearby merchants have reported a spike in foot traffic as a result of the market. Parking garage managers have also reported an increase in activity when the market operates. “Customers may come downtown for the market,” she added, “but they also see shops in the area they might not otherwise know about.”
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The Tacoma Farmers Market operates every Thursday from June thru October, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. More information is available online at http://www.tacomafarmersmarket.com.