When the folks responsible for Auburn’s International Farmers Market started talking about moving it from the Sound Transit Plaza to Les Gove Park to skirt the next two or three years of construction activity in that part of the downtown, they were hopeful the public would go for it.
But, as Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Arts, Parks and Recreation said this week, they didn’t quite know what they were going to get – sizzle or sink.
Well, the market’s inaugural season on the former Big Daddy’s site is on the books, and the verdict is in.
“Fortunately, it’s the success side,” Faber told the City Council on Monday evening at City Hall.
OK, pair “success” with “smashing,” and you’ve just about got it.
Don’t believe a word, skeptic? Just take a gander at these eye-popping numbers.
According to Market Coordinator Amanda Valdez, from 2017 to 2018, vendor sales increased by 66 percent, the customer count jumped by 28 percent, the number of prepared food vendors leaped by 127 percent, and farmer sales soared by 30 percent.
Also, where other farmers markets in King County, including Seattle’s, averaged $285,509 in vendor sales in 2016, Auburn’s 2018 Les Gove Park version topped that number by 9 percent.
Here are a few more telling stats: EBT – Electronic Benefits Transfer, formerly known as Food Stamps – registered 437 EBT purchases worth $4,000 on eligible food products, while Fresh Bucks – the grant-funded program that matches EBT funds 100 percent – ended the season showing $12,752 spent at farm vendor booths, an astronomical increase over 2017.
“The vendors obviously would be super happy when they go from $188 to $12,000,” Faber said. “We’re selling booth-based, 100 percent, and so that means it’s money in the vendors’ pockets.”
To help explain this success, here are a few telling comments from market vendors:
Farmer: “Love the grass. The park location feels more like a farmers market.”
Farmer: “My sales have doubled this year.”
Craft vendor: “This location is much easier for people to get to.”
Faber said the market will definitely continue at the park for its 11th and perhaps 12th seasons, and who knows, perhaps for good.
Market officials made the crosstown trot to avoid potential traffic difficulties and construction barriers related to plans for construction of two large, mixed-used buildings on two lots east of the plaza. Market officials said that sales and customers had also fallen the previous seasons, and the Les Gove site would not only allow for more vendors but also offer ample parking for patrons and vendors.
“Our hope is to both grow the market so the farmers can create more revenue and give them a larger audience share,” Faber said in 2017. “We know that about 300 cars a day drive by the current site, and about 20,000 go by the other site. So we are hoping with visibility, and with all the other activities happening at Les Gove Park, such as the spray park and museum, it’s just a better site.
“We are also bringing into play there the former Herr Big Daddy site, which we think will have more visibility, and work out perfectly for the market and some summer activities we are going to be doing at that site,” Faber predicted.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday for 18 weeks between June and the end of September, the market offers not only cream-of-the-crop vendors and easy access to local, farm-fresh products and hand-crafted items but also to those awesome restaurant-based concession stands with their promise of home-cooked tastes.
Hey, and don’t forget those free performances, guest chef demonstrations with farm-fresh ingredients, children’s activities, and all those classes on health, nutrition and gardening.