Farmers Market concludes for the summer

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home Farmers Market closed last week for the season, following two years of operations in a COVID-19 world. 

It was a good summer, said some vendors who participated. 

Unlike last year, when the market greatly curtailed its activities to encourage “grab-and-go” shopping that didn’t involve extended contact between customers and vendors, this year’s atmosphere was a little more relaxed. 

Vendors said customer flow this summer was pretty normal. 

Heather Wright of Wright Family Farm on Liberty Road estimated that she saw about 200 customers per day, with surges around 2 p.m. and then later in the afternoon as people got off work. 

“People are still supporting the farmers, still coming,” Wright said. “The community was very generous. We had really good turnouts.” 

Alisia Horner, who operates Cliff’s Creations, selling produce and organic fruit with her partner Cliff Armstrong, said this year was pretty typical. 

“We’re doing good,” she said, adding that the couple is mainly focusing on wild mushrooms at the Lebanon market, held Thursday afternoons through the end of the month. 

“It was pretty much the same as the years before. We have a lot of loyal customers.”

Granted, things aren’t quite what they were in 2019, before the pandemic hit. 

The market in those days featured weekly concerts and it was a bustling affair in the square bordered by the library, Genealogy Society Library and then-City Hall.

This year some progress was made in getting things back to normal with the re-institution of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which doubled the amount participants spent at the Farmers Market, up to $10 each week. 

“That was really good, because we weren’t able to do that last year because of the pandemic,” said Wright, who’s sold produce at the market for six years. “We weren’t supposed to have people lingering, hanging out. It’s nice to have that little bit of feel of normalcy.”

To accommodate COVID-19 restrictions and concerns, the market has not offered music the past two years. 

“We’re still missing the live music, which was fun and a way to generate revenue,” Wright said, adding that the market has operating costs and it has struggled to meet those.

The market also held an annual fundraiser dinner, which hasn’t happened in the last two years, as another way to generate revenue.  

“The dilemma is we have operating costs that we’re struggling to meet,” Wright said, noting that organizers held raffles to raise funds for the organization. 

In addition to Wright, regular vendors this year included Gambardella Honey Farms of Stayton,  and Carol Porter of Sweet Home Chestnut Farm, who sells locally grown meat. 

One attraction for customers this year was the “Power of Produce” Club, called “POP” for kids, an outreach sponsored by Samaritan Health, which  provides a fun opportunity for children to engage in the local food system through conversations directly with farmers, educational games and demonstrations, and exposure to new fruits and vegetables.

 In addition to participating in educational activities, POP Club kids receive vouchers to spend at the market, allowing them to make their own shopping decisions at the market.  

“(Market manager) Chris (Bayne) would have an activity that kids would do,” Wright said. “They’d taste something, do some exercise, something. It’s a great way to get kids to consume vegetables.”

Wright noted that the Sweet Home market will reopen on the first Tuesday of June 2022. 

“Usually there are a lot of plants and people who are getting ready to do their gardens can come take advantage of that,” Wright said.