MOSCOW — Five days before the 2016 Moscow Farmers Market season begins, a new wrinkle appears. A vendor wants to add an item to his food booth.“It wasn’t juried,” said Moscow Arts Commision director Kathleen Burns with a sigh, shaking her head at a photo of shish kebobs.
While the market’s booths, bulging with fresh produce, eggs, plants, crafts and prepared food, may seem like a hodgepodge to visitors, behind the scenes every detail is calibrated. All goods sold by vendors are vetted by a jury months before. Prepared foods are taste-tested. Those selling produce must grow it themselves and a grower or a family member must be present at the market to talk to customers. These are just a few ways the market ensures its integrity, Burns said.
Voted No. 1 in the state for five years in a row, Moscow’s seasonal market is also ranked among the top 25 in the nation by the American Farmland Trust. Last year sales totaled more than $ 1 million.
The market’s aim to make healthy food available to all is one of the ways it ranks high. For seven years the market has accepted EBT/food stamps, collecting $8,933 in 2015. Last week, Washington state granted permission for the market to accept WIC and Seniors Farmers Market checks. The federal program is designed to provide fresh, locally grown food to WIC families and low-income seniors and support area farmers.
“It is actually a higher investment and return for the state than food stamps,” Burns said. “Who benefits are the growers.”
Idaho does not recognize the program, she said.
“Hopefully this will be a little nudge for Boise to work with this program,” said Burns, who serves as vice chairwoman for the Idaho Farmer’s Market Association.
Fresh produce from regional farms is the market’s backbone. While most farms at the market are from the area, others come from as far away as Wapato and Royal City, Wash., each week. Live music encourages visitors to dwell a little longer, as did last year’s addition of local beer and wine vendors.
It’s not just farmers that benefit from the market. It’s proven to be an incubator for fostering new businesses. Moscow restaurants, including Patty’s Mexican Kitchen, Lodgepole, Panhandle Artisan Bread Co., and Humble Burger, all got their start at the market. Next week the latest market spin-off, Sisters Cookies Co., will open a storefront downtown. Connie Rosendahl started selling cookies at the market in 2010 as a way to teach her daughters how to greet people and make change. She was only going to do it for three weeks but the response was overwhelming.
“There was a bigger demand than we ever anticipated,” said Rosendahl, who worked as a nurse and now supplies large orders of cookies to area hospitals and coffee shops.
Besides discovering a demand for her product, Rosendahl was able to fine-tune her product with weekly customer feedback, adjusting her recipes to be more shelf-stable and shippable. Out in the open air she met the business people around her who offered advice, tips and feedback — something that wouldn’t have happened if she was in her own building, she said. Market organizers put her in touch with state and federal agencies to answer questions.
“We’ve benefited from their focus and desire to make this an event more than, this is where you’re going to go buy your tomatoes. I don’t know if we would have had the same success at another market in another town,” Rosendahl said.
Although she is opening a store Rosendahl will maintain her booth at the market where she plans to test new cookies and continue her relationship with customers. She’s not alone. Several other businesses have done the same.
“We don’t want to let go of the people that put us there in the first place,” Rosendahl said.
If You Go
What: Moscow Farmers Market
When: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through October
Where: Main Street and Friendship Square
Of Note: Live music is from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dogs and smoking are not allowed.