Move, grow or stagnate. That’s the choice the bustling Lane County Farmers Market has been looking at for years. Its members vetoed a big July 2013 move to the Fifth Street Public Market, but they approved a couple of smaller experiments. When the Thursday market opens June 6, it will move from Amazon Park to Fifth Street Public Market. The Farmers Market is also negotiating to close one block of 8th Avenue during the Saturday market.
Farmers Market Board Member Jack Gray, also owner of Winter Green Farm in Noti, says the push to expand is, at its heart, about space. “There are certain pinch points at the market where crowds are just too much when we’re busy,” he says. “There are a lot of access issues during those busy times.” More space could help people with families or physical challenges, he says.
Dan Armstrong, spokesman for the Farmers Market, says the Thursday market struggled financially last year at Amazon Park. “The Thursday market move is really an effort to rejuvenate that market,” he says. After the vendors and customers have a Thursday market season (hours will be 10 am to 2 pm) at the Fifth Street Public Market, he says the organization will reconsider moving its largest market. “I think we’ve known all along that what makes the vendors happy is more sales, and so I think that will be the decider,” he adds. “It will also depend on how they like the atmosphere there and how is our relationship with Fifth Street Market.”
Lynne Fessenden, who is on the expansion committee for the Farmers Market and executive director of the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, says what might sound like simple growth is actually quite complicated. The Farmers Market must consider factors like visibility, street traffic, parking, number of vendors, congestion and the impact on the adjacent, craft-focused Saturday Market.
Gray emphasizes that the Farmers Market is striving to arrive at a joint solution with Saturday Market.
Fessenden says that having a strong, central core market is essential. “It would be ideal if it could be in our Park Blocks,” she adds. “It would be ideal if we could take back the ‘butterfly’ lot block and make that park, but if that’s not an option, I would like to see some other covered space where it’s really easy to shop in the rain and gather.”
Fessenden says that while the Saturday farmers market will still be a little cramped for the beginning of the 2013 season, she thinks farmers market lovers and advocates should be encouraged to step up and volunteer in the midst of all the changes. “We’re really not back in the same place,” Fessenden says. “The conversation has evolved quite a bit and people have given it some more thought.”