Downtown market promoters ‘think spring’

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It may be February, but those associated with Washington’s Main Street Farmers Market are preparing for its 10th season.


Lee Stivers, vice president of the farmers market board and educator with the local Penn State Extension office, believes all 26 vendors who were part of last year’s market are returning for the May 16 opening. Some have sold their produce at the market every year since it first opened.


“The fact that they stick with our market means it’s working,” Stivers said. A sales review showed that 80 percent of the vendors had reported an increase in their business thanks to the market.


But Stivers noted the market is always looking for new vendors and will continue its visiting vendor program to provide additional variety for customers. The market board is looking for more volunteers, musicians and sponsors for this season, too.


Hours of operation will be 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday until the end of October. On-street parking is free.


Plans continue for expansion of the market, both with a permanent pavilion on the site and a winter market.


A permanent pavilion over the South Main Street location would run across the front of the two public parking lots. It would be made available to other groups wanting to host events there. Stivers said progress has been made on funding the pavilion, which she believes will become a reality next year.


There also are plans to one day add a winter market, even if that market is open only twice a month. Stivers recently gave a presentation on storing food for a winter market at the Mid-Atlantic Fruits and Vegetable Convention. Farmers from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., also were there, giving input on using “under tunnels” to successfully grow produce for a winter market. Stivers sees their growing techniques as a possibility for this region, as well.


“The demand for local foods in Southwestern Pennsylvania outstrips the supply. The demand is there,” she said.


Originally started under the Washington Business District Authority, the farmers market last year was able to get its 501c3, tax-exempt charitable status, thanks to its education outreach and community programming.


Those programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance or SNAP program, which provides EBT cards for clients to shop at the market. There also are tokens for clients with the Community Circle Food Pantry and vouchers for seniors under the state Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program.


The market’s electronic newsletter is mailed to 1,300 people. Its web editor is Leslie Dunn, also the market secretary, who is assisted by students at Washington & Jefferson College.


Other ways the market forges a stronger connection with the college and attracts student customers has been with market “dollars” that were distributed to freshmen last year. The plan this year is to extend that to the entire student population.


With the exception of a paid market manager, those who work on the farmers market are all volunteers. Other board members include Suzanne Ewing, president, and Al Lucchini, treasurer.


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