San Juan County Fair Board says fairgrounds is best site for permanent farmers market

The San Juan County Fair Board has issued a public letter proposing that a permanent farmers market be located at the fairgrounds.

The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild is proposing that a permanent farmers market be located at 150 Nichols St., the former site of Friday Harbor Electric; the fairgrounds was ranked third on a list of proposed farmers market sites.

Proponents want the Land Bank and Town of Friday Harbor to fund the purchase the former Friday Harbor Electric property for a multi-use site which would include an indoor and outdoor market, a commercial kitchen, a performing arts stage and a public park.

The town would contribute $375,000 in lodging tax money and would own the site; the Land Bank would contribute $400,000 and would own a historic preservation easement. The Ag Guild would lease the site from the town and sublease it to various users.

Proponents of the Nichols Street site say it is more suitable because it's in the center of downtown activity; they also want to preserve the Friday Harbor Electric building, a 100-year-old structure that was originally a cement block company that manufactured cement blocks used in the construction of many of Friday Harbor's heritage buildings.

Proponents of locating the permanent farmers market at the fairgrounds say the fairgrounds has the room and the parking space to accommodate a market. They also say it fits the fairgrounds' purpose in promoting agriculture.

The Friday Harbor Town Council will discuss the permanent farmers market site on Dec. 3 at its 5:30 p.m. meeting. The meeting is open to the public.

Here's the letter issued by the San Juan County Fair Board:
There have been several requests to the San Juan County Fair Board regarding the position of the board on the Permanent Farmers Market.

The following is presented here as public information to clarify our position.

The Fair Board and management are very supportive of a Permanent Farmers Market in our community. The Fair Board considers the fairgrounds as an ideal location for the Permanent Farmers Market as it fits with the traditional and current mission of the fairgrounds.

Part of the aims and purposes of the fair is to promote agriculture and rural living. In this regard, the Fair Board would like to see a Permanent Farmers Market that has a primary focus on locally produced farm goods and products. This would constitute the financial foundation for the Permanent Farmers Market and help create a sustainable organization. Budgeting for a partnership between the fair and the Permanent Farmers Market would have to be sustainable for both parties. The issues of local farm stability, sustainability, food security, and emergency preparedness would be basic goals.

Although the fairgrounds is a third choice on the list of options, the operational sustainability of the Permanent Farmers Market at the fairgrounds has not been seriously discussed with the fair by any of the organizing groups. A draft operating budget for the Permanent Farmers Market at the fairgrounds was developed and presented by the Permanent Farmers Market project manager. However, the fees for the Permanent Farmers Market in this draft budget were based on the standard facility rental rates (i.e. for one-time events in the Main Exhibit Building).

The Fair Board, however, has consistently expressed interest in having the Permanent Farmers Market at the fairgrounds on a “partnership” basis. It has always been our position that the long-term financial viability of both organizations would have to be considered in any agreement. There are many ways in which a “partnership” could benefit both organizations and significantly cut costs for the Permanent Farmers Market while bringing a valuable community asset to the fairgrounds.

The Fair Board recognizes the desirability to also have local arts, crafts and on-site edible food vendors as part of the Permanent Farmers Market vendor mix. These vendors are an attractive draw and add to the overall positive experience of attending farmers markets. These types of vendors are a significant factor in promoting and attracting tourism.

The Fair Board and management are available for comment and discussion regarding the establishment of a Permanent Farmers Market at the fairgrounds with any of the organizing groups or other interested parties.

— San Juan County Fair Board

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