Vendors Take the Lead as Farmers Market Winds Up Season

If you’ve been to the Yelm Farmers Market recently, you may not have noticed anything different. If not, that’s a credit to two local farmers / vendors who have emerged as leaders in what has been a tumultuous year. In the absence of a regular market manager at the end of August, Mari Mankamyer of Mari’s Farms and Lucas Howe of Root Cellar Farm ave stepped in to keep the market open.

In 2017, a federally mandated split between the for-profit and non-profit arms of the Yelm Cooperative meant that the farmers market lost the annual subsidy that has usually come through membership fees from the umbrella organization. Although in recent years the market has come close to funding itself, the gap was too much to bridge. By the end of August, funds had run out to continue to a pay full-time manager.

That’s when Howe, Mankamyer, and Mankamyer’s husband Tim Mann stepped up. “We didn’t want the customers to lose faith in the market,” says Howe. “We were able to find a middle ground by doing what we could for the month of September and making sure everyone understood the market was going to remain open.”

The transition has been relatively seamless, says Mankamyer. “Tim’s been handling a lot of the logistics, but for the vendors, everyone knows each other and gets along well.” Perhaps the main difference has been an increased level of communication among vendors and the new leadership team. “I’ve been in other markets where you only see the manager once,” says Howe. “I’ve made an effort to speak with every vendor at least once every market. By listening, I know what they need and can do my best to see that they get it.”

New customers are still discovering the market, even though it’s now six years old, says Mankamyer. “To this day we get a lot of new people coming through that had no idea we were here. Having signs out is crucial.”

Potentials for next year include a move to the new community center in Yelm City Park and deeper collaboration with like-minded groups focused on strong food networks and food security. “The potential of moving to the city center sounds really cool,” says Howe. “I’ve also enjoyed Nisqually Springs Farm for the past few years. If we’re going to move it would need discussion with the people it affects the most.”

Whatever unfolds next year, he has a message for the community. “As farmers, we want to feed everyone and make sure they’re getting good food. When you shop at the market, your money is staying in the community.”

Mankamyer echoes that sentiment. “Come and support us,” she says. “This is a team effort. It takes everyone to make it happen. This is something we’re planning to have around for years to come.”

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