Federal Way Farmers Market co-founder creates community gathering place

Rose Ehl is Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for October.

As high winds whipped canopies off the ground, vendors and volunteers scrambled to grab the frames and keep them from blowing away.

Federal Way Farmers Market manager Karla Kolivab held an umbrella over a woman’s head to keep her dry, while the woman’s husband, Federal Way Municipal Court Judge David Larson, ran to their car to get his umbrella.

“We prayed for no rain, but forgot to pray for no wind,” laughed market co-founder and events director Rose Ehl, as she recalled the Taste of Federal Way event that the market hosted in September. During the event, nine local restaurants teamed up with local nonprofits and raised $8,500 for the community.

This is the vision that Ehl had 15 years ago when she started the market: a place where community could gather.

“After 15 years and all the hard work of our volunteers, I truly believe the farmers market is one of the standing events that make our city such a great place to live,” Ehl previously told the Mirror, who has named Ehl as their Citizen of the Month for October.

Ehl (pronounced “eel” like the fish, she said) got the idea to start the Federal Way Farmers Market while working at the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and going through an Advancing Leadership course in 2003. Each class completes a team project during their program year.

Ehl said her group decided on trying to implement a farmers market in Federal Way. Her team pitched their project to the class at large, which ended up selecting a different project to take on. A year later, her classmates encouraged her to pursue her farmers market idea.

It wasn’t easy.

“Karla (her daughter) and I would put [her] kids to bed and work on it until midnight because you had to get your farmers together,” Ehl recalled, noting that they went to other farmers markets to get a better idea of how they were set up, as well as worked with the city on finding a location for the market. “It was a huge project. It took a year to put together.”

They eventually found the Sears parking lot site at The Commons Mall. The market started out small and 15 years later has had as many as 70 vendors on any given Saturday during the market season, which runs from June through October.

Most Saturdays throughout the season, market-goers will see Ehl dashing throughout the market, along with her daughter — market manager Kolivab — and her husband David, who serves as vice president of the market board. When he retired, he brought his donut-making machine to the market and makes mini-donuts next to the information booth.

“They’re just a big hit,” Ehl said.

The most challenging aspect of operating the farmers market year after year is ensuring that the market is more than produce and is a community market, she said.

But that’s also the most rewarding part of what she does.

“This last year I was really proud we did a kick-off for the Special Olympics and that was a lot of fun putting that together,” said Ehl, whose community involvement also includes her service on the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee for the city, and involvement on the Soroptimist board and Decatur Horticulture advisory committee.

During the Special Olympics kick-off in June, Seahawks legend Jordan Babineaux emceed the event, while the market gave local athletes competing in the games flags and goodie bags.

“It was really special,” Ehl noted.

“From her participation as a member of the Lodging Tax and Advisory Commission to her passion running the Farmer’s Market, Rose is always looking for ways to improve and strengthen our community,” said Mayor Jim Ferrell in a statement. “She played an integral role in organizing the Rise With Us Rally in July for the Special Olympics. You could tell by the strong turnout and all the big names she gathered to be part of the rally that people always respond positively and enthusiastically when they hear that Rose is involved with an event.”

Ehl is also thankful for Federal Way Public Schools’ partnership with the market over the years that has allowed students to participate in market events, including local high school bands who have ushered in the start of the market season on opening day.

“We are appreciative of Rose Ehl and the Federal Way Farmers Market for providing our scholars the opportunity to showcase their many talents and connect with our local community,” said FWPS Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell. “The Market also provides a place for all types of businesses to showcase products and services and by extension, it provides an opportunity for our scholars to experience what it means to be an entrepreneur.”

Ehl spoke about the many high school youth who have helped the market set up and take down over the years, including City Council member Lydia Asseffa-Dawson’s sons.

“It was really interesting to watch them grow and learn about work and ethics,” Ehl said. “We’ve had some really outstanding kids work for us.”

Local students will also play a big role in the market’s upcoming Candy Cane Lane at the Holiday Gift Bazaar, which will run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 30 through Dec. 23 in the Sears store at The Commons. The bazaar’s opening night Nov. 29 will include entertainment by Federal Way High School’s Filipino and African-American clubs. The bazaar will feature unique handcrafted items and more.

Ehl said she is honored to be selected as Citizen of the Month, and added that the market will “continue to provide a venue that includes the community of Federal Way.”

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