Opinion

Market will reinforce our local tourism-based economy | Guest Column

Supporting local farmers is a key component of both a healthy community and a healthy economy. Investing in a local farmers’ market, in the downtown core, is fundamental to this effort.

In Friday Harbor, a local farmers’ market in the downtown core will support our local producers, their ability to preserve agricultural land; provide them a direct marketing opportunity; provide consumers fresh, local food; create a local gathering place; provide other businesses an influx of customers, and promote tourism.

There is a wealth of economic research to support these claims. One regional report on farmers’ markets showed tenfold increases in farmers’ markets’ revenues over the past decade. The report found similar increases in the number of farmers selling.

Another study found that for every $100 spent at a farmers’ market, $65 is re-spent locally — for a total economic impact of $165. The study also found that 60 percent of market shoppers also visited nearby stores on the same day; of those, 60 percent said they visited those additional stores only on days that they visited the market.

One more study found that 50 percent of farmers’ market customers shopped at other local businesses on their way to or from the farmers’ market, and yet another reported a 30 percent increase for local stores.

It is important to point out that to see these associated benefits, the market must be within the downtown core and not away from other shops, restaurants and markets. Further, locating the facility in the downtown core will allow it to be a gathering place, unlike other locations not downtown.

A downtown farmers’ market will not only draw from existing tourism, but will become a tourist draw in its own right. Numerous local and national publications have covered significant growth in “agricultural tourism.” Just this year, six publications have promoted agricultural tourism in the San Juan Islands, including The Seattle Times, 425 Magazine, Northwest Palate Magazine, and Sunset Magazine.

According to Veronica Stoddart, USA Today deputy managing editor for travel, “The number one travel story USA Today is looking for is culinary travel — food festivals, agricultural tourism events, farmers’ markets, farm to table programs for restaurants ...”

There can be no question that a permanent farmers’ market in the Friday Harbor downtown core will reinforce our local tourism-based economy.

Lastly, our state is investing in the market out of state Capital Budget. It is important to note that this means it is not competing with needs such as education, health care or public safety, as these funds are restricted and cannot be used for state General Fund purposes.

Also, the farmers’ market was the only capital request from San Juan County — in other words, the state could either fund this exciting project or make no capital investments in San Juan County this year.

A farmers’ market in Friday Harbor is a long-term capital asset. It will become exactly the kind of social and economic center that, three years from now, our community won’t imagine we ever did without.

— Kevin Ranker represents the San Juan Islands in the state Senate.

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