Like a crop that comes back strong after a tough growing year, both Yakima area farmers markets saw their vendors, customers and sales rebound after a pandemic-dampened 2020.
With only a few October dates left for the Yakima Farmers Market in Union Gap and the Yakima Downtown Farmers Market on Third Street, organizers are thankful the 2021 season has returned — somewhat — to normal.
“It’s been pretty good,” said Don Eastridge, manager of the Union Gap market near the Valley Mall. “When you get a year like (2020), it takes a while to get everything back in order, for customers to come back and for vendors to return.”
Attendance and sales at the downtown market were improved in 2021, manager Yvette Lippert said.
“We saw a really large uptick in our sales,” Lippert said. “With two weeks to go, it looks like we will exceed our 2019 sales this year. We’ve had $296,000 in total sales so far, which is $85,000 more than last season. We had $306,944 in 2019.”
The downtown farmers market, open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays, operated 21 weeks this season instead of the usual 25 before the pandemic.
Despite early-season COVID restrictions, record-setting summer heat and poor air quality due to the Schneider Springs Fire, about 26,000 people attended the downtown market in 2021, with two weeks remaining.
“Last year we saw 16,000 visitors, and there were 33,000 in 2019,” Lippert said. “The smoke in the air in August really hurt our attendance levels. We had attendance of more than 2,000 people a week before that. After the smoke hit, we were down to 1,200 to 1,300 people.”
Vendor participation also improved, Lippert added, from an average of 21 each market day in 2020 to 31 per market day in 2021.
Eastridge said both the number and variety of vendors improved from 2020 to 2021 at the Yakima Farmers Market in Union Gap, helping attendance and sales rebound as well.
“Last year we had all of our market (dates), but were restricted to food and farmers only,” he said. “This year we had our artisans, crafters and food processors back.”
The Union Gap market, open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday through Oct. 31, has averaged about 35 vendors a week, Eastridge said.
Both sites have some special events planned for their final weekend. The downtown market’s last day, Oct. 10, will feature a selfie booth and cornhole games.
The Union Gap market will have a costume contest for vendors and the public on Halloween.
Lippert reminded patrons who use WIC and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks that they must be spent by Oct. 31 at an authorized farmers market program, which includes both Yakima area sites.
She also noted that the EBT matching program, where purchases made with food stamps are matched dollar-for-dollar on fruits and vegetables, has been very popular this season.