Farmers market veteran Patty Spahr, who has been at the helm of the Mercer Island market for the past five years, is planning to retire as the 2016 seasons wraps up.
After a successful summer season, its ninth since its inaugural year in 2008, the Mercer Island Farmers Market held its last big event — the Harvest Market — on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
As the market looks toward celebrating a decade in business next year, it is also seeking a new manager. Spahr said she plans to be involved in the transition.
“This is the most meaningful job I’ve ever had,” she said. “We’re helping bring good, healthy and often organic food to the community. I take pride in facilitating that.”
Spahr started her career in event planning, before managing the farmers market operation at Full Circle Farms. She coordinated the farm’s vendor participation at 24 farmers markets in the region, and went on to manage the Queen Anne Farmers Market in 2009.
The Mercer Island Farmers Market’s mission is to connect growers, consumers and the Island business community to create a valuable, sustainable community asset. The benefits resonate beyond the local community by contributing to sustainability of the region’s agricultural production.
Since Spahr took over as manager in 2011, the number of customers, vendors and farmers at the Mercer Island market have all gone up. She said that she and her board run the market like a business. In fact, one of her proudest accomplishments was being awarded “Business of the Year” by the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce in 2013.
The Mercer Island Farmers Market was organized in 2007 by residents with a passion for healthy living and a desire to offer fresh locally grown produce and support local farmers. The first market manager was Edee Phillips. In 2009, the Mercer Island City Council named the organizers and volunteers of the inaugural farmers market season as the “Citizen of the Year.”
Spahr said that her No. 1 focus is supporting local farms. She was born on a farm in Centralia, and both of her parents were farmers. Her commitment to local agriculture is further evidenced by her volunteer role with the Washington State Farmers Market Association, which she plans to stay involved with after retiring. She also plans to spend more time with her family, including four grandchildren.
A lot of work is put in behind the scenes to make sure the market happens each week, but the reward is worth it, Spahr said.
“I do think that we create community,” she said.
As market manager, Spahr works with the Vendor Selection committee to select and monitor vendors. Some vendorsdrive 100 to 200 miles each way, she said.
Spahr also provides oversight for all functions the day of the market, including scheduling, adherence to health and safety requirements, set up and take down.
The Mercer Island market, and others in the area, are lucky because of the abundance of produce grown in Washington state, she said, from apples to wine and even sweet potatoes, which could be found at Nov. 20’s Harvest Market.
Spahr said that whoever plans on applying for the position must have a passion for the market’s mission and values, and that they will be supported by a dedicated board and team of volunteers.
“We couldn’t do it without [the volunteers],” she said.
The Farmers Market Board of Directors meets monthly throughout the year to plan and evaluate the market, working via a committee structure that includes development, finance, marketing, programs, vendor relations and volunteer committees.
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