Growth, evolution and a whole new look for North Bend Farmer’s Market’s 16th season

Minna Rudd walks Marty Wheeler past the new concessions building, down the new sidewalk, to the corner of a patch of fresh, green lawn. “He’s right about here, facing into the seating area,” Rudd says. The Si View Activities Director is showing Wheeler, a retired firefighter turned vegetable farmer and entrepreneur, where his corner booth will go in a few day’s time. “She knows our lines get big,” Wheeler says. He doesn’t try to campaign for any special spot, letting Rudd do her job. “She has put a ton of intelligent thinking into this market,” says Wheeler.

Sharing a laugh and showing off goodies to be had at the upcoming North Bend Farmer’s Market

Sharing a laugh and showing off goodies to be had at the upcoming North Bend Farmer’s Market

Minna Rudd walks Marty Wheeler past the new concessions building, down the new sidewalk, to the corner of a patch of fresh, green lawn.

“He’s right about here, facing into the seating area,” Rudd says. The Si View Activities Director is showing Wheeler, a retired firefighter turned vegetable farmer and entrepreneur, where his corner booth will go in a few day’s time.

“She knows our lines get big,” Wheeler says. He doesn’t try to campaign for any special spot, letting Rudd do her job.

“She has put a ton of intelligent thinking into this market,” says Wheeler.

He should know. The farmer is one of two remaining growers  of the six who founded the North Bend Farmer’s Market, 16 years ago, in the parking lot of Mount Si Senior Center.

“We knew North Bend was going to take off,” he says.

The market, which opens its 2013 season at 4:30 p.m. this Thursday, June 13, has done just that. And with construction and improvement projects wrapping up this month, Si View is looking to evolve and grow once again.

The farmer

Wheeler is CEO of Oak Hills Farms, a network of vegetable farms that includes land in Fall City. He sensed potential in North Bend, with its proximity to Eastern Washington. And when the mix of private businesses, farmers, local government and residents of all incomes got involved, “it took off,” he says. “This whole thing has kept (blooming), more blooms, more blooms.”

His farms take part in 18 markets across Washington. The North Bend Market is different from all others, Wheeler says proudly.

“Farmers, craftsmen, government and privatization all got together and figured it out,” he said.

Wheeler grows onions and rhubarb. But his booth at the North Bend market sells Hawaiian shaved ice—there’s plenty of room for other people’s produce, he says.

“We wanted other farms to grow with the market,” Wheeler said.

Families show up on the warm summer evenings for Wheeler’s sweet, gem-colored cups of ice.

“It’s not me and it’s not the product,” Wheeler said. It’s really the people, who come rain or shine to be at the market, and know that Wheeler will be there, too.

Since coming to Si View in 2005, the market has steadily grown, Vendor sales have doubled; from the original six, today there are 33 booths, offering everything from recycled art, crocheted goods and wood jewelry to natural moisturizer to kettle corn and wood-fired pizza.

Visitor count has more than doubled since 2010; the market drew 11,000 people to Si View Park last summer.

“We get a fantastic group of vendors who are super-committed to the market. They love the interaction, and that shows,” says Rudd. “People come back for the same vendors, week after week. It’s part of a summer tradition.”

Part of it is the Thursday concerts. The market started with a couple of shows per summer. Today, they’ve expanded to weekly events.

A park upgrade

The historic community center also played a big role. Few if any other farmer’s markets can tap the 75-year legacy of Si View.

“Everybody has had a specific talent to make the market strong,” Wheeler said. Si View’s modernization “is the last step.”

Si View will celebrate completion of the new park with a ribbon cutting on June 27. The opening marks the finish line for work begun with passage of a bond in 2010 that already paid for a new roof and seismic upgrades at the 74-year-old Community Center.

Last year, with the playfields one big dirt pile, the market was held in part of the parking area. Visitors to this year’s market will see an evolution of that theme, with vendors on grass but customers strolling paved paths.

“We’re definitely going to continue with the street fair,” says Rudd. “But we can bring more vendors, that we had to cut last year.”

There’s more parking, and room for more booths—this summer, two wineries will sell bottled vintages. Vendors have more options for how they set up their booths.

Families can enjoy the new restrooms, climbing wall, basketball court, a half-mile loop trail. A new picnic shelter is the future space for outdoor concerts or theater in the park. Rudd envisions picnickers watching shows from the lawn.

Si View’s outdoor play spaces got a thorough test drive last week.

“There’s been so much excitement and anticipation,” said Rudd. “Kids, fascinated, glued on to the fences.”

When they pulled the fences back last Tuesday, “it was really something to see the first families come through cautiously—can we play now? And the kids just jumped on.”

From a single family at lunchtime, “when I left at 7:30, there were families all over, having dinner, kids were playing basketball, slides were getting used,” Rudd said. “There was a line for the zipline. The word didn’t take long to get out—we have officially moved back the fences.”

That excitement bodes well for Si View and the Farmer’s Market continuing collaboration.

• You can learn more about the North Bend Farmer’s Market at www.siviewpark.org/farmers-market.phtml. Or, call the Metro Parks District at (425) 831-1900.

Si View’s refurbished grounds and new bathroom/concessions building will be part of the North Bend Farmer’s Market, which opens Thursday.


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