Oct. 17, 2020 — On Tuesday, Florence Farmers Market vendors packed up at the end of the market’s third season. It was a year of transition, as the COVID-19 pandemic guidelines meant the market operated as a drive-through service — with people ordering ahead online and picking items up without having to get out of their cars.
“The market itself has just been so successful,” said Florence Farmers Market organizer Jennifer Nelson. “I can’t believe that we just finished our third season. We’ve accomplished so much in these three years, especially because we had to totally change things up this year.”
She and fellow market volunteer Britte Kirsch met with Siuslaw News via Zoom to talk about its third year and a special bulk-buying event that will conclude the season in November.
Fill Your Pantry will take place Sunday, Nov. 8, from noon to 3 p.m. at Siuslaw Middle School, 2525 Oak St. People will be able to purchase pantry items along with fresh produce, frozen and fresh meat products, pastries and more.
“The market is looking at this event as a gift to our community,” Nelson said. “We’re offering accessibility to food that can be challenging to access in general in our community, and especially during these times of COVID and recent fires. … This is our gift to our community to try to create more a sense of food sustainability and accessibility.”
Kirsch added, “It’s an opportunity for the vendors, as well, to finish out their season, get rid of anything that they have extra, and just make sure that the food goes to use.”
All the 2020 vendors from the market will have goods for sale, along with a few new faces.
“We have a pretty good variety,” Nelson said. “There will be some storage foods and produce like onions, potatoes and squash. There also might be some random things that the farms still have left over in the greenhouses, like tomatoes and maybe some raspberries, depending on what the weather does.”
To participate in the event, people will be able to browse the selection virtually and place their orders beginning Oct. 26. Ordering online closes Nov. 2. (A full vendor list is included at the end of this article.)
On the day of the event, people will enter the middle school from 27th Street and follow the bus route. Market vendors will be set up under the overhang by the gym, and volunteers will direct traffic.
“We are also offering the SNAP Double Up Program that we’ve been offering in our market for the last three seasons. But it’s going to be extra special,” Nelson said.
Double Up is an effort to increase accessibility of healthy, locally produced foods, increase overall health and create healthy eating habits. For the Fill Your Pantry event, the market will match up to $50 for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients. This is beyond the amount the market has matched for its third season, which is $20.
“That’s really a lot of food,” Nelson said.
Kirsch added, “It’s for the community here in Florence, but it’s for everyone. It’s not just a Florence thing. We encourage other communities to take advantage of this coastal bulk buying event.”
Plus, the market will be providing worksheets on the best way to prepare and store pantry goods. Florence Farmers Market President Mary Shaw will also be providing recipes to go with the materials, which come from Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Offices and Food Heroes.
“I’m excited that we’re offering the food storage information,” Nelson noted. “I think a lot of people just don’t quite know exactly what the best ways to store their foods are. You can really be creative and figure out ways to store your foods. You don’t have to have a root cellar. There are other ways to do it.”
Kirsch is a Florence Master Recycler, and members will be there with additional information.
“They will be able to educate people as best as we can in a COVID-19, social distancing way,” Kirsch said. “We’ll also have information about eating smart and wasting less.”
Master Recyclers will also be providing reusable mesh produce bags. They are just one the many sponsors of the event. The other sponsors are Northwest Farm Credit Services, PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center, Rekindled Restorations, Shawn Fleming Construction and Shippin’ Shack.
“We’re really excited to give thanks to all of them for supporting this event,” Nelson said.
Some sponsors contributed funding, while Shippin’ Shack gave an in-kind donation for signs and banners.
Kirsch said, “It is wonderful that the community supports us.”
It’s something that Florence Farmers Market will pay forward. Through funding from Northwest Farm Credit Services, the market is offering grants to purchase food at Fill Your Pantry to The Good Deed Project’s Soup Brigade and the Florence Free Lunch Program
“We’re just trying to support the community that way, too,” Nelson said.
The Florence Farmers Market features farms and businesses that are within an hour drive of Florence.
One product at Fill Your Pantry will be local honey sourced from the Central Coast Beekeepers Association of Oregon. Kirsch is a member and was able to give reasons why this honey is so special.
“The association is a local coastal beekeeping club. We meet in Newport, but there’s a lot of us here on the coast in Florence who keep bees. We have gotten together, collected all our honey and put it all together as a coastal wildflower mix,” she said.
There will be both a darker and lighter variety.
Money raised through the sale of this honey will go to support the OSU Honey Bee Lab.
“It’s our donation as a club to give back to the research that’s being done on honeybees and keeping bees,” Kirsch said. “And honey is yummy.”
Humble Bee Honey will also be providing honey on Nov. 8.
Fill Your Pantry will operate similar to the regular farmers market.
“It’s beautiful when everybody drives in with their produce, and they lay it all out to distribute to everybody,” Kirsch said. “We’ve just had gorgeous produce this year.”
Some of her favorites have been the tomatoes, but this fall’s squash has been “phenomenal.”
One new vendor this year was Federated Seafood, which offers locally caught fish and smoked salmon.
“That’s been a really neat touch to have products from the sea as well as from the land,” Kirsch added.
Nelson said she enjoyed the addition of bento boxes this year. These came from Fermentruth, which also offers kimchi and other fermented products.
“The vendors all felt like it’s been really successful for them this season with the drive through,” she said. “They feel like it’s been really successful for them, and maybe even more so than the walk-up market.”
Part of the market’s success has been its active volunteers.
“We’re really lucky with the group of volunteers that are doing the market now,” Nelson said.
Many of them will be able to help with Fill Your Pantry, though additional people can sign up to help. Contact Kirsch at [email protected] for more information.
The organizers described the Tuesday markets as a parade, with cars lining up to receive their produce.
“It’s fun,” Nelson said. “We’re all standing on the sidelines waiting, saying hello, throwing food to them. And we all get to see each other a little bit when otherwise, we might not be able to.”
“I feel like people have really appreciated the drive-through market,” she said. “I had one person talk to me the other day about how she really appreciates this model. She’s hoping it stays this way because she feels like the walk-up market can take a little more time and she doesn’t always have that after work. She loved the idea of the accessibility of being able to drive through, pick it up and move on.”
According to Nelson, the market supported 105 households a week between May and October.
“That’s a lot of a lot of households,” she said. “It’s really building on that sustainability idea. … We’re creating this sustainability and a place for these people.”
For Kirsch, it seems “the community has bought into it and is ready to keep it going and grow it.”
According to Nelson, some of the vendors also have been able to hire more people because of the market.
“We’re creating food sustainability and increasing economic stability in our area,” she said.
2020 was a big year for the market. It officially became a 501(c)3 and partnered with two groups to secure funding for the SNAP Double-Up program.
“And we’re hoping to actually grow the market a little bit next year. We think we’re ready to grow it, and that’s exciting,” Nelson said.
The 2020 Fill Your Market Vendors are:
Learn more online at FlorenceFarmersMarket.org and at facebook.com/FlorenceOregonFarmersMarket.