A favorite community event kicks off its summer season
By Abigail Thorpe
Sandpoint’s beloved Farmers’ Market has long been a community staple. Held in Farmin Park bordered by Oak and Main streets every Saturday and Wednesday throughout the spring, summer and early fall months, it’s an opportunity for the community to meet, relax and source fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers while perusing the local artisans and food vendors.
This year the market started later than expected due to COVID-19—Saturday May 16, was its opening day. The market looks different than in past years due to health precautions, but it is still committed to keeping Sandpoint and local communities supplied with the fresh, local goods they return for every year. For now, the market only offers staple products like vegetables, meat, cheese, bread and soap.
The modified market is open on Saturdays only for now, from 9am to 1pm. It is a smaller market, with just around 32 vendors occupying a full lane of the city parking lot across from Joel’s Mexican Restaurant instead of Farmin Park. The limited number of vendors allows each to spread out, with 6 feet between each booth. It will help the market manage the number of people entering the farmers’ market. “We want to allow for that social distancing,” says Market Manager Kelli Burt. Volunteers are stationed at the front and back of the market to help count people and make sure customers and vendors can stay safe while continuing the market exchanges the community counts on.
The Wednesday market is postponed until further notice—keeping the community and vendors safe and healthy while continuing to provide access to local farmers to the community is the market board’s top concern. “We still want community support, and we really want people to respect the rules and regulations, because we have them there for a reason, for the safety of everybody,” says Burt.
Sandpoint’s Farmers’ Market was started 32 years ago by local farmers in the community. They saw a need to provide local food to the community and started a volunteer board. They set up the market in Farmin Park—the original vendors numbered under 10. “As the popularity grew so did the membership,” says Burt.
Veteran vendors include Staff of Life, which offers soaps, body care items, fiber arts, fresh jams, veggies and starts; A Basket Case—a local artisan that offers hand-woven baskets, and hand-dyed painted items like fabrics and flags; and HERB’s Herbs, which has grown to include hand-thrown ceramics in addition to herb plants.
Larger produce vendors like Mountain Cloud Farm offer fresh, chemical-free produce, meats, plants and flowers to the community. Small farm Red Wheelbarrow Produce has been growing all-natural produce, microgreens, herbs and plant starts for North Idaho since 2008 and can be found at the market each year.
Burt started as a vendor at the market nine years ago. She was a farmer and sold produce for four seasons at the market before taking a break from farming and later becoming the market manager after meeting her husband and starting their family. This is her third season as the manager, and it has been the perfect opportunity for her to continue her passion for farming and growing local.
“I love the community aspect,” she says. “Often farmers live out of town and they are working crazy hours in the summertime, and so they get a sense of community by coming to the farmers’ market and sharing stories and advice—everyone's helping one another.”
It’s a community spirit at the market—no one is in it for themselves. Growers and artisans are often eager to share advice with their neighbor, and the vendors often help each other and share pleasant conversation and company, says Burt.
“I love that the community gets to feel that too,” she adds. “Sandpoint comes out and supports the market and makes it a viable income for our famers and our crafters and our food vendors.”
It is a unique market, and visitors experience a welcoming atmosphere of community, friendship and giving, along with incredible market goods and produce. “I think it has to do with Sandpoint being so special too,” says Burt. “We have really talented, really smart farmers, and so it's amazing what people can produce in a small area and with our short season here.”
In a normal season the market hosts the Master Gardeners once a month to offer activities for kids and adults. On Wednesdays they usually have the Imagination Station, where a woman comes to do free arts and crafts and storytelling with children on the lawn. The market won’t be doing these activities this year due to the virus, but they hope to continue them next year, in addition to the annual Kids’ Day.
Last year they had over 30 young adult vendors come and take over the market on Kids’ Day. “Last year at our Kids’ Day, I've never seen so many people in Farmin Park all at once,” remembers Burt. “We had dancers from a local kids’ group—they got up on stage, and they did a choreographed dance. It was just one of the sweetest things I've ever seen in Sandpoint. All of the families were out there clapping them on. Everybody stopped to watch what was going on. I was crying, everyone was crying. It was so cool to see that kind of support for our younger generation.”
It’s an amazing day the community always comes out for but one that will have to wait for next year. “We had some big things planned for the year, but we have to kind of put everything on hold for the time being,” says Burt.
The market continues to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits from shoppers this year, and provides a unique Sandpoint market perk to shoppers using the government benefits. The Double Up Food Bucks program will match the SNAP benefits amount up to $10 for each household using the program.
“We're really excited, especially in this time of this great financial uncertainty, that we're able to continue that program in the community,” says Burt. “And we're really hopeful that people will utilize that and get fresh food for their family.” The market was able to secure funding through the Idaho Farmers Market Association to help fund the program this year.
As the market works to transition to a modified market during this time, they are looking for friendly volunteers to help in multiple ways, including greeting customers, counting numbers, sharing new policy information, and setting up signs and wash stations. Visit the market website at SandpointFarmersMarket.com to sign up to help keep the market running strong.
For visitors to the market, keep in mind the modified market will cause some changes, and work to be patient and understanding in the process as everyone works together to keep our community safe and well fed. The market asks you to leave your dogs at home and refrain from eating at the market. Market operations will continue to change in keeping with CDC guidelines and Idaho’s stages of opening. Visit SandpointFarmersMarket.com to stay updated.