News

Market blooms with state's harvest

By JACINDA HOWARD

The Mirror

The Federal Way Farmers Market opens each spring, ready to deliver a dose of homegrown freshness to the community.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday beginning May 12 and ending Oct. 27, flowers, produce and handmade goods can be found at the market, located in The Commons mall parking lot.

The market, now in its fourth year, originally began with help from the city, which gave co-founders Karla Kolibab and Rose Ehl a $21,000 interest-free loan in 2004 to get it started.

They finished paying back that loan. This year marks the first in which the market will be self-sufficient, Ehl said.

“It’s nice to be on your own,” Ehl said. “We just know we have to work harder.”

Customer satisfaction

The Federal Way Farmers Market is a member of the Washington State Farmers Market Association. This means all the products found at the market are handmade or grown in Washington state.

Farmers throughout Washington — from as far way as Yakima and as close as Auburn — come to Federal Way to sell their goods at the farmers market, Kolibab said.

All the food, flowers and crafts come directly from their producers, not re-sellers. Although crafts are available, fruits and vegetables are the biggest sellers, Kolibab said. Each year, the market grows larger and attracts a diverse group of people.

For customers, the market provides a way to buy fresh foods. It also offers customers a place to buy fruits and vegetables that are free from pesticides and other chemicals, Ehl said.

Farmers are also available to answer questions about their produce. Some dispense recipes or advice on how to grow the produce.

The farmers market provides a quality difference over a grocer when it comes to fruits and vegetables, Kolibab said. Some of the farmers at the market pick their goods the same day they sell them.

“Everything is fresh,” Kolibab said. “Everything in the supermarkets is three weeks or older.”

The desire for cheeses, jams, jellies and other preserved foods has consistently risen since the market’s debut, Ehl said. An average of 45 vendors currently sell their goods at the market each Saturday.

“We’re trying to match the demand with new farmers and more products,” Kolibab said.

Customers can also purchase market food with coupons provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — also known as the WIC Program. Through this U.S. Department of Agriculture program, low-income women and children are given coupons to buy nutritional food items, according to the department’s Web site at www.fns.usda.gov/wic.

Last year, nearly $30,000 worth of WIC coupons were spent at the Federal Way Farmers Market, Kolibab said.

Vendor profits

Customers are not the only ones benefiting from the Federal Way Farmers Market. For many local farmers, the market is part of their livelihood.

Vendors are charged a $25 fee and 6 percent of profits, but all other money vendors make at the market is theirs to keep, Kolibab said.

As enjoyable as it is for Ehl and Kolibab to provide a place that unites the community, the market is designed with farmers in mind.

“It gives the small farmer a chance to make a living,” Ehl said.

Angel Moua of Angels Greens in Redmond attends the market each year. She sells flowers, onions, peppers, spinach, beans, carrots and other vegetables. She averages $400 each Saturday, she said.

Moua only sells her produce at farmers markets, but this year she plans to only sell at the Federal Way market.

As the market enters its fourth year as an independent and self-sufficient entity, only time can tell how profitable it will remain. However, its founders are confident that the market will continue to succeed and provide a way for community members to buy fresh produce from local growers.

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

Farmers market history:

The Federal Way Farmers Market began when Karla Kolibab and her mother, Rose Ehl, both Federal Way residents, decided the city needed a place that would capture the attention of the community and keep residents from traveling outside the city to buy food items.

In 2003, Ehl, who works for the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, participated in the Advancing Leadership program offered by the chamber. She wanted to start the market as part of the class’s community project, but her idea was not selected. “Several people said well why don’t you go ahead and do a farmers market anyway,” Ehl said.

Ehl and Kolibab formed a non-profit organization and became members of the Washington State Farmers Markets Association. The city provided them with a $21,000 interest-free loan to get the market started.

The first year was tough, Kolibab said. Many of the farmers had already found their niche and placed their produce elsewhere, she said. Today, the market is operated by an eight-person advisory board. With the exception of a handful of high school students, who are hired to help set up and take down the market each Saturday, everyone else assisting with the market is a volunteer, Kolibab said. Kolibab and Ehl continue to search for new products and produce to offer the market’s visitors.

Vendors are charged a fee of $25 and 6 percent of their profits each time they sell at the market. The money covers advertising costs, portable toilets and trash cans, which the state requires on the premises. Most of the money that is applied toward sustaining the market comes from the sponsors, who pay $150 for advertising and a booth at the market.

The market runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays beginning May 12 and ending Oct. 27 at The Commons mall parking lot, at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South.

To learn more, visit www.federalwayfarmersmarket.com.

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