What’s on the Farmers Market menu besides something to eat?
If you haven’t gone to the Wednesday Forest Grove Farmers Market on Main Street, what are you even doing? (Hopefully studying.)
Here are the basics: It is an event that first started in Forest Grove in 2005, the Farmers Market features ready-to-eat food from local businesses and fresh produce from Oregon-based farms. Weekly, about 2,500 visitors pass through; or, one out of 10 people in Forest Grove (or, five times as many that go to a Boxer football game). The Wednesday night event runs May until October (ahem, go now before it shuts down for the year).
But, even with all of this people traffic, how does a vendor make dough from these events?
To answer this question, one must consider what a vendor does. Food vendors have several different strategies that can help them be more popular than others. Some of this popularity, or unpopularity, is inevitable due to what the average customer prefers. For example, if I’m craving sugar one day, my main priority would be to go to vendors that sell desserts like Pastries Pacheco, not dinners like Bites Restaurant. However, vendors do other things besides just giving out food to get people’s attention. For example, like peacock primping for mates, some vendors decorate their tents in an aesthetically pleasing way which can help highlight the culture that they represent or the values that their business abides by. Other vendors provide games; like, at the recent Corn Roast Festival, Epic Dental Arts had a prize wheel which gave them a lot of opportunities to talk to people about the services that they provide. Focusing on the experience, rather than sales, gives vendors a unique advantage in connecting with their customers.
Other service vendors recognize that most patrons don’t stop by a farmers’ market for information about insurance and banking—and shuffle local food into their appeal. At the Corn Roast Festival, Wauna Credit Union decided to try serving popcorn made using local seeds, providing six flavors of supermarket seasoning to drizzle on. I tried it with the jalapeño cheddar flavor, which offered a nice blend of cheese and spice. “It’s really important to Wauna Credit Union that all people feel welcome in our branches,” said Willow Oelke, who serves as their Community Engagement Director. “Everybody’s different from each other and we want to celebrate that. So for the popcorn machine, everybody gets their own flavor because we’re all made up differently and we all celebrate life in a different way and we all got our different ‘flavor.’”
“We really like to make it a fun experience,” said Oelke. “When you go to one of these events, the last place you would go to is a bank booth, right? You feel like you’re going to get sold something, or it’s going to be some awkward experience. And that’s not what we’re here for, we’re here to serve our community and make it fun.”
So the next time you go to the Farmers Market, think about other ways to enjoy your time. While eating your sweet, buttery churro from Rosas Churros, a good marionberry pie or “Chef Chicken” burger, from QueVer Cuisine (which I recommend), take the time to visit the violinists, painters, and basket weavers of Forest Grove, or perhaps even find ways to volunteer. After all, the kernels of life are close by; don’t let them cook on their own. – Aaron Meeuwsen