Spotlight on Business: The Queen Anne Farmer’s Market

10 09 2009

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Remember the quote from the movie, Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” Well, it has certainly proved true for the Queen Anne Farmers Market this year.

The Queen Anne Farmers Market is a non-profit organization with the mission of supporting local farms and building the community of the neighborhood. And after its re-launch this summer in their new location at Queen Anne Avenue and Crockett, the market is truly proving to be a community success. A success that may be attributed to a number of different factors, and people. It takes a village to raise a child right?

The People:

With a canceled farmer’s market contract in their hands, Julie Whitehorn led the steering committee to further developing the Queen Anne Farmers Market with a business plan different from other markets in the city (Pike Place, The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, and Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets). Simply put, everyone had to be passionate about building the community and creating relationships with the neighborhood.

Julie’s vision also included the promotion of small farms, helping farms become financially viable, and improving public health by encouraging responsible attitudes towards small farms. And after attending a conference by Project for Public Spaces, an organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, she was inspired to jumpstart the market. Without direct market management experience, her passion and vision for the market certainly gave her the credentials to take action. She knew that an operations template could be learned, as long as the market received an increasingly positive response from the neighborhood.

The Place:

One of the most difficult challenges for any farmers market is finding a site to use long-term. Now in its third location over the course of its three years in operation, the Queen Anne Farmers Market sits at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Crockett. Defeating skepticism about whether a community group could manage a market, this new location provided a unique opportunity to showcase the market’s changing of the guard.

Julie credits the logistical support of Karen Selander in the Office of Economic Development for the market’s new permanent location, and Seattle’s new public policy assisted by mayor Greg Nickels regarding farmers markets. The new policy stated that:

  • Market operators can apply for street closure permits once per year instead of every month.
  • Reduced fees for both street closures and use of parks are based on the many public benefits provided by the markets.
  • Permit fees for a year-round market utilizing a street closure will drop from $8,312 to $251 per year.

Thus, changes in the permitting process and reduced fees for holding markets on public property will enable the Queen Anne Farmers Market to continue to operate along the bustle of Queen Anne’s commercial district.  Well, that and the $15,000 grant the market won from the City of Seattle to pay for staffing costs. As stated by Councilmember Tim Burgess, a Queen Anne resident, on the market’s opening day, “The opening today of the Queen Anne Farmers Market is a great example of an effective partnership between city government, the neighborhood, and the private sector.”

Regarding the private sector, one of the market’s neighbors paved wider sidewalks than required for the market and allows vendors to use the adjacent garage to park while the market is open. This can clearly be stated as a positive response from the neighborhood.

The Community:

The community of the Queen Anne Farmers Market does not just include the neighborhood of Queen Anne and Julie, but also the market’s single employee and manager Patty Spahr, intern Lisa Kenney, chef demo coordinator Jenise Silva, many volunteers, and its vendors.

Jenise volunteers with the market to coordinate chef events each week. In choosing event participants and topics, she requires that everyone invited uphold these three standards:

  1. Excellence in food quality.
  2. Commitment to local sustainability.
  3. Close geographic proximity to Queen Anne.

As a result, she has coordinated chef demos by Ethan Stowell, Traca Savadago, Lorna Yee, Jerry Traunfeld, and Robin Leventhal (yes, the Top Chef contestant).

The market steering committee has also coordinated several other themed events for the market this summer. Their concern for highlighting all of the market’s cheese vendors led to a cheese tasting event. They also noticed the high number of families and dogs at the market each week, leading to creation of  “Family Day” with a scavenger hunt around the market, “Dog Day” showcasing a dog photographer and dog contest, and “Melon Madness Day” with a melon carving contest. Upcoming on the calendar, they’ve put together the market’s “1st Annual Blue Ribbon Pie Contest,” judged by Kate McDermott and Jon Rowley – awarding prizes for all. None of these events could have happened without the support of everyone involved and their passion for creating the community atmosphere that is the Queen Anne Farmers Market.

As for the vendors, many have returned for the summer and even more sit on the waitlist. Because the market is a producer-only market, customers buy directly from the farmer or producer and establish direct relationships with each vendor. Moreover, the market has a goal of generating 70% of its sales from farmers and 30% from added value businesses, who also promote the use of local food and market sustainability. Added value businesses include Skillet, Parfait Ice Cream, Poco Carretto Gelato, and Secret Stash Salts.

Julie also sees the market as a small business incubator, building upon existing success and creating foundations for future business success. Notably, Wink Cupcakes actually began their business at Queen Anne’s first farmer’s market; they’re now opening their first storefront along Queen Anne Avenue this year.

In conclusion, the Queen Anne Farmers Market has chosen an aesthetic appropriate for the neighborhood and it uses technology (website and Twitter) to showcase vendor profiles and event schedules tailored to community interests. As with any successful business, the market is truly focused on its customers, creating an enjoyable experience for the people who come and want to come back.

The stars have aligned, the pieces have come together and all signs point to…Queen Anne Avenue and Crockett on Thursdays between 3-7pm. Have fun and buy local!

Photo courtesy of the Queen Anne Farmer’s Market.

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