Mukilteo Farmers Market taking 2019 off

Lack of volunteers at root of break
By Brandon Gustafson | Jan 30, 2019
Photo by: Brandon Gustafson The 2018 Mukilteo Farmers Market’s opening day attracted a large amount of patrons. The market will be taking the summer off due to a lack of volunteers.

Summer Wednesdays in Mukilteo are going to look awfully different than years past, as the Mukilteo Farmers Market will be taking the year off due to a lack of volunteers.

The market has been occurred every summer since July 2004, with a mix of farmers and local vendors selling food and handmade goods. In recent years, it has taken place at Lighthouse Park.

Mimi Landsberg, the market’s board treasurer, said taking this summer off was a necessity when looking at the big picture.

“We have no market manager, no returning day-of volunteers, what do we do?” she said.

Landsberg said the when the market first started, it wasn’t a designated nonprofit and had to pay taxes.

“I was doing their taxes originally,” said Landsberg, a public accountant. “The market received nonprofit designation in 2014 – 10 years after it started.”

As the market started to get bigger, it was decided a paid market manager was needed starting in 2007.

“The market is very labor intensive,” Landsberg said. “It’s like running an event weekly. The manager was in charge of making sure banking was done, farmers had the right paperwork, submitting grants, and setting things up.”

Volunteers ran the volunteer booth, which allowed the manager to walk around the market and assist wherever necessary.

The market hired Bear Charles Summers, a former volunteer, as the market’s manager a few years ago. He died unexpectedly at age 59 last September, toward the end of the market’s season.

“When we hired Bear, he wasn’t super tech-savvy,” Landsberg said, laughing. “Filing for grants, bookkeeping, all that went to the volunteers.”

The market has a fiver-person board, and Landsberg’s family makes up three-fifths of it.

Her son, Jacob, served as board president and her daughter was a director.

“The core group of volunteers began to retract. We tried to get more volunteers in 2018,” Landsberg said. “I had wanted to take a step back. I’m there every Wednesday, and that’s a lot. I have to close my business.

“My son was there every week until he went to law school. Other board members said they couldn’t do it. We just don’t have returning volunteers.”

Volunteers were even more crucial in recent years as the market implemented an EBT card system, which would distribute tokens to patrons, which the vendors would then exchange with the market for monetary value.

“That booth has to be filled or things could get stolen,” Landsberg said. “We can’t just have a manager. We need volunteers.”

Landsberg and other board members tried community outreach, but it didn’t work out.

“Last spring, the (Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce) let us speak at one of their events. We couldn’t get anyone to volunteer,” she said. “People couldn’t agree with times that we’d need them there, parents couldn’t make it. We were at a loss of what to do.”

Landsberg said they then reached out to Mayor Jennifer Gregerson.

Gregerson said the city simply can’t take on the market this year, but hopes to see it back in 2020.

“I think the market is an important part of our community spirit, bringing people together to access fresh food, meet farmers and enjoy the waterfront,” she said. “I am hopeful that this one-year break will raise awareness and that new volunteers will surface for the 2020 season.

“The city does not have the capacity to run the market this year, and I also think it makes the most sense to run as a community organization.”

Gregerson said the city had given the market a community grant in the past, and that it could apply next year if money were an issue.

“We have money in the bank,” Landsberg said. “The city donates that land for free, and a certain amount of parking near us is free.”

Along with a lack of volunteers has been a lack of booths and patrons, Landsberg said.

“The farmers just aren’t coming,” she said. “We also hear complaints about traffic. Early on, we wanted to try and move it up to Harbour Pointe.”

During last year’s market, volunteers were able to use a state-issued computer tablet through a program called “Fresh Bucks” to track the demographics of patrons.

“These people weren’t coming from Mukilteo,” Landsberg said. “We’d get people from Whidbey, we got tourists, but not a lot of Mukilteo residents.”

There were only so many free parking spots for non-Mukilteo residents, and those typically filled up quickly.

“People as close as the Mukilteo Boulevard, they would come but complained about having to pay for parking,” Landsberg said. “We used to have a shuttle come down from Rosehill, but that’s gone. Now we have this limited free parking but we’re hamstrung by how we can market it.”

But now, with essentially no volunteers returning, the board will use 2019 to try and get more volunteers for 2020’s market.

“The best thing is to take a year off. People who feel strongly, maybe they’ll decide to volunteer,” Landsberg said. “If I can get a new stable of volunteers, great. We had some new volunteers but then they leave. It’d be best to have more volunteers so they’re working fewer hours.

“One family shouldn’t be three-fifths of the board.”

 

 

 

 

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