Farmers Market organizers, volunteers earn Citizen of the Year Award

The 2008 Citizen of the Year Award honors not one, not dozens, but more than 100 Island residents. On Monday, July 6, the Mercer Island City Council announced “the organizers and volunteers of the inaugural 2008 Mercer Island Farmers Market” as the much anticipated Citizen of the Year. A cheer of appreciation and gratitude erupted from the group of Farmers Market committee members present at the meeting.

“This is really exciting, and we appreciate all the Council’s support,” said Farmers Market Steering Committee chair Callie Ridolfi, who accepted the award. “There’s been tremendous community benefit — everything we hoped for.”

Although it is uncommon for the City Council to award Citizen of the Year to a group rather than an individual, it is not unprecedented.

Since the award was established in 1990, the City Council has tweaked its rules, allowing for more than one individual to be recognized and for individuals to be awarded posthumously.

In 1998, the Mercer Island Clergy Association was awarded Citizen of the Year due to its “overwhelming support and advocacy for affordable housing.” The group’s support culminated in the purchase of Ellsworth House in 1999.

The following year, the Citizen of the Year award went to another large group, the Aircraft Noise Abatement Committee. This group of over 260 citizens was awarded for “vigilantly opposing operational and policy changes proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration that would cause increased aircraft noise over Mercer Island.”

The Farmers Market organizers and volunteers become the third plurality in Island history to receive honor as Citizen of the Year.

“This goes to show what a small group of people, with a vision and a passion, can accomplish — something that’s great for the whole community,” said Councilmember Steve Litzow.

Thanking everybody who contributed to the inaugural Farmers Market, Ridolfi named four “mother matrons” who devoted particular time and energy to the cause: Cecilia Finnegan, Tracy Landsman, Edee Phillips and herself. All three women stood for applause.

According to the Citizen of the Year resolution, the Farmers Market was recognized for contributions to the community, including offering a place for all ages to enjoy, providing a weekly opportunity to meet neighbors, and enabling residents to purchase local food from local farmers, and in doing so, contributing to the local economy. In addition to members on the Farmers Market Steering Committee, dozens of Island volunteers were also critical in the market’s success, Ridolfi pointed out.

“It wouldn’t have happened without our volunteers. We figured that we had 160 volunteers; about 100 youth, including sports teams, girl scouts and church groups, and about 60 adult volunteers,” she said.

The majority of these volunteers are still actively helping with this year’s Farmers Market, which has more vendors, entertainers and participants than in 2008. The second annual Farmers Market also debuted months earlier than in 2008, starting on June 21 and scheduled to end in early October. According to Ridolfi, the organizers have already received glowing feedback about the Sunday market, from both patrons and vendors.

“Many vendors say this is the most organized farmers market they have worked at, and that they see a difference in the level of volunteerism compared with other markets,” the committee chair said.

The 2008 Farmers Market included 32 vendors and serviced approximately 19,000 customers over 10 weeks, according to committee numbers. This year, Ridolfi said the market has seen an average of 2,000 visitors every week.

The Farmers Market takes place each Sunday through Oct. 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the edge of Mercerdale Park.

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