News

Farmers market goes solo

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Following a turbulent season, the Federal Way Farmers Market will return next spring to conduct business independently.

Owners Karla Kolibab and her parents, David and Rose Ehl, resigned their membership with the Washington State Farmers Market Association on Oct. 9. The decision came after complaints were made about the market’s inability to comply with the association’s guidelines. Though it has resulted in the loss of support from the highly recognized and respected WSFMA, Kolibab feels the market’s new status will allow it to better satisfy customers’ needs and desires.

The resignation could prove harmful to the Federal Way Farmers Market, said Pam Grueter-Schmidt, Washington State Farmers Market Association president.

The Federal Way Farmers Market started operations this past May as an independent nonprofit entity. Its founders had paid back the $21,250 loan they had received from the city four years ago when the market was created. The market was functioning independently and sustaining itself.

Then August came, and questions arose about the farmers market’s operations.

On Aug. 23, Sept. 2 and Sept. 4, the WSFMA sent Kolibab and the market’s board members a letter detailing its disapproval of the consistent presence of the franchise business Great Harvest Breads and the market’s sponsorship program. WSFMA administrative director Jackie Aitchison requested both issues be addressed immediately since they were in violation of the WSFMA Root Guidelines, which govern how the association’s member markets operate.

The association also requested the Federal Way Farmer’s Market discontinue an occasional swap meet, Grueter-Schmidt said. If the Federal Way Farmers Market failed to comply with the Root Guidelines, its membership would be revoked, according to the Aug. 23 WSFMA letter addressed to Kolibab and the market’s board members.

“We are very strict about who we allow to vend in the market,” Grueter-Schmidt said.

The WSFMA insists that goods sold at its affiliated farmers markets are grown or made in Washington state, Grueter-Schmidt said. Great Harvest Breads, though a Federal Way business, may not use local ingredients to produce its goods, she said. Furthermore, a swap meet does not fit into the association’s guidelines because it offers products that are not handmade, she said.

In an attempt to comply with WSFMA regulations, Great Harvest Bread was removed from the market for four consecutive Saturdays following the complaints, Kolibab said. Customers not only noticed, but questioned the vendor’s absence, she said.

The bakery has appeared at the market practically every Saturday for the past four years, Kolibab said. The vendor knew its customer base and its products were in high demand, she said.

But at no time was the bakery ever given permission to conduct business at the Federal Way Farmers Market, Grueter-Schmidt said.

For two weeks, a petition was circulated, asking the market’s visitors for feedback on the occurring predicament and Great Harvest Bread’s absence from the farmers market, Kolibab said. The Ehls consulted their attorney, who researched the effects of resigning membership with the WSFMA.

After much debate, review of the petition and conversations with their attorney, Kolibab and the Ehls decided the market must continue operations as they were.

“The market is for the people of Federal Way,” David Ehl said. “We have to gear it for what they want.”

Kolibab and the Ehls saw no way for the Federal Way Farmers Market to offer Great Harvest Breads goods and still maintain its membership with the WSFMA, David Ehl said. Kolibab sought an alternative source of insurance for the market. Great Harvest Bread was invited back to the farmers market and the WSFMA was notified that the Federal Way Farmers Market no longer wished to be a member of its organization.

“We didn’t see it ever ending in our favor,” David Ehl said.

Kolibab and the Ehls are confident that their farmers market will continue to be a success without the support of the WSFMA. The market will still offer fresh local food and handmade crafts, Kolibab said.

Kolibab and the Ehls assure the market will not introduce more franchises, but that Great Harvest Bread is staying only because that is what Federal Way citizens and market shoppers desire.

“We are excited about what we can do now,” Kolibab said. “It will allow us to grow a little bit more.”

However, not everyone agrees with Kolibab’s optimistic view of the future of the Federal Way Farmers Market. Many farmers and customers rely on the WSFMA to locate local farmer markets, Grueter-Schmidt said. Without a membership with the WSFMA, new customers will have no way of knowing Federal Way offers a farmers market, she said.

Also, customers may avoid the Federal Way Farmers Market if they have no guarantee, other than a verbal promise by its owners, that the food is fresh and produced locally, Grueter-Schmidt said. They know that WSFMA member markets have to follow strict guidelines as to what is sold at the markets, she said.

Likewise, farmers and crafters sometimes avoid selling their products at markets that are not approved by the WSFMA, Grueter-Schmidt said. Farmers do not want to compete with franchise businesses, she said.

“Farmers are more inclined to participate in a market that is a member of the association,” Grueter-Schmidt said.

Federal Way resident Maureen Hitchcock, a former Federal Way Farmers Market board member, wants to see a reputable farmers market operating in the city, she said. The city lent the farmers market money to start its operations with the notion that a WSFMA member market would continue in downtown Federal Way, she said.

“(The current farmers market) is not what the city was promised,” Hitchcock said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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