Farmers' Market sees growth while encouraging local agriculture
With as many as 24 vendors selling this year, the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market is bigger than ever.
The many new developments this year include new ownership and new management.
“The Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market is looking better than ever!” city council member Tim Stearns announced at a meeting last month.
New market manager Phoenix Lawhon Isler said the biggest improvement is the implementation of the Market Match program for EBT customers.
The market is in the process of changing hands. Retired farmer and market co-founder Kirsten Olson is in the process of stepping down from the market manager position.
After starting the market in 1999 with her husband and farming partner John Tannaci, Olson is handing it off to Isler.
“It’s been really good to learn from Kirsten,” Isler said. “I couldn’t think of a better teacher.”
She added that it’s been great to work with Nancy Swift at Jefferson Economic Development Institute as well.
“It’s thanks to JEDI that we’re doing Market Match. They really help us to support the market as a business,” Isler said.
Beginning in 2015, JEDI has become the parent organization of the Mount Shasta Farmer’s Market, which benefits the market in more ways than one.
“Since JEDI is a non-profit organization, they can apply for grants that the market couldn’t before because it was a privately run business,” said Olson.
Swift and Olson worked together earlier in the year to make sure the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market could offer Market Match dollars to its EBT customers for the first time.
“Market Match is really the big new thing,” Isler said. “It’s very popular here.”
According to the ecologycenter.org, “Market Match is California’s healthy food incentive program, which matches customers’ federal nutrition assistance benefits, like CalFresh and WIC, at farmers’ markets.”
Up to $10 in EBT farmers’ market tokens are matched by the program. The Market Match dollars can only be used on produce, while the regular EBT tokens can be used to purchase anything except for hot food.
“The idea with Market Match is that we’re improving access to healthy food for people who might not otherwise get it,” said Isler. “It’s really empowering the market and it’s benefitting the farmers.”
Olson explained that the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market currently has $4,000 in funding for the Market Match program.
“$2,000 was donated to JEDI by a local non-profit organization,” Olson explained, “and that amount was matched by the grant.”
She added that the farmers’ market would love to extend the Market Match program as long as possible, but they need funding.
Any other non-profit organizations in the area who are interested in making a donation to help extend the Market Match program can contact Nancy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isler said the market hit a record high for EBT sales last week at $488.
Since the matching dollars can only be used to purchase produce, Olson said, “the growers are really feeling the positive impact, and that’s fabulous!”
Promoting local ag.
The market includes a couple of craft vendors and several that sell prepared foods, but Olson said, “the primary focus of this market is to promote and encourage local agriculture. We try to always keep more growers than anything else.”
Aside from one vendor who travels from 12 miles outside of the county line, all of the food growers at the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market come from Siskiyou County.
The market has grown by about one-third since 2014, according to Isler.
“Part of that growth is from relocating the market to Main Street,” Olson said. “Another part is just the phenomenal growth in popularity of local food and local growers.”
“We’re extremely grateful for all of the support from the community and the city,” she said.
New vendors this season include: Grow Radicle, Montague farmers who moved to Siskiyou County from Oregon; Persephone Baking from Weed; Rockside Ranch from Etna; Baby G Goat Milk Soap from Yreka; and Sengthong’s from Dunsmuir, selling their popular spring rolls and salads.
Isler, who spent part of her childhood growing up in Mount Shasta, is an aspiring farmer herself.
She officially took over as Market Manager early in the season, with Olson guiding her from an assistant manager position.
“I’m very passionate about local food, and have been for a long time,” said Isler.
She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of New South Wales in Australia, where she lived for several years.
“Farming and local food are huge in Australia,” she said, “so I’m used to that, and when I moved back to this area I jumped on this job opportunity.”
Isler is also the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center Program & Development Director.
She said working at the farmers’ market has been an excellent way to reintegrate into the community after being absent for a period of time. She gets to see old friends and meet new ones every week.
She’s also in charge of booking new musical acts to perform at the market. “We try to support local musicians and mix it up with different styles of music,” she said. “Next week we’ll have a Celtic ensemble.”
As the seasons change
Isler and Olson have a couple of fun projects in mind for the coming months, both of which involve connecting with local schools this Fall.
They’re hoping to hold a homemade salsa competition at Sisson School as well as a mock farmer’s market at Mount Shasta Elementary.
Olson is excited about the changing produce that comes along with the changing seasons.
“Last week was the midpoint of the market season,” she said, “and it’s fun to see the change in produce. Sweet corn appeared for the first time last week.”