Students Choose Downtown as Farmers Market Splits

Sam Grainger-Shuba

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Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis.

The start of 2013 marked the split of the Walla Walla Farmers Market.

On Jan. 18, the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market Association (WWVFMA) announced that they would open their 2013 season at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds, instead of the usual spot behind City Hall. The city of Walla Walla decided not to renew the WWVFMA’s contract for their usual location. Instead, the city granted the space to the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, intending to hand the market off to them. Personality clashes, disputes and other interpersonal problems caused tension for the 2012 season, to say the least. Farmers clashed with the new contract holders, causing a group of farmers to leave and start their own market.

For 2013, things are different: There are two farmers markets in Walla Walla. The market behind City Hall is now called the “Downtown Walla Walla Farmers Market” and is run by the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation. That market is separate from the “Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market,” an independent market located at the Fairgrounds.

The 2013 farmers market season, which lasts from May to October, has been a cautious test run of the compromise of the two markets.

“I am very happy with the way that the [downtown] market has gone this year,” said produce farmer John Zerba. “There was a little bit [of drama] to start with. But it’s all taken care of.”

Cheryl Thyken, manager of the Downtown Walla Walla Farmers Market, referred to the general nervousness within the farmers of the Downtown Market.

“I think they were concerned what was going to happen, how it was going to feel when we were here,” said Thyken.

Thyken was hired by the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation to organize and run the market after the split happened. Though she was not a part of the 2012 season, she believes that this season has been a definite improvement.

“Everyone is kind of healing in the process,” said Thyken. “The events of a year ago are just a distant memory, very rarely mentioned any longer.”

The vendors and the community are starting to get used to the two markets, according to Laura Engelman, an AmeriCorps volunteer for the Blue Mountain Action Council. Engelman runs an informational booth at the Downtown Farmers Market for a group of gleaners in the greater Walla Walla area.

“I was not around for the unfolding of events last year but from what I have heard, it was a bit of a tumultuous time for those involved. Having two markets this year has been an adjustment, but things are going well and everyone seems to have settled back into the normalcy of the Walla Walla Farmers Market beat,” said Engelman.

So far it seems that the Downtown Market continues to flourish, with an average of 60 vendors on Saturdays and 15 on Sundays.

“It’s easier to go to the farmer’s market closer to the school, obviously,” said first-year Natalia Zea. “Not a lot of students have cars.” 

The Fairgrounds is not within walking distance of the Whitman campus, and with such a successful market about five minutes away, Whitman students are more likely to end up downtown. In the end, the farmers market is about business, and for many of the farmers there, it is inconvenient to give up such a central location to sell their products. The Fairgrounds location only has one produce vendor, who also has a crew at the downtown market, and usually around five other artisan vendors.

However, the season is not over yet, so all there is to do is wait and see.

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