Redmond Saturday Market bills itself as the “Cadillac of farmers markets” — and rightfully so.
The market was founded in 1976 by master gardener Georgia Erskine, who envisioned a small, neighborhood venue where residents could purchase fresh, locally-grown produce. Today, the oldest open-air market on the Eastside operates between the first Saturday in May through the last Saturday in October, and typically includes 85 vendors during peak summer months. It’s also the third-oldest market of its kind in Washington state (Pike Place Market was established in 1907; the Olympia Farmers Market was established in 1975), according to Redmond Saturday Market executive director Nicole Wrigley and Washington State Farmers Market Association executive director Will O’Donnell.
How has the market survived for more than 40 years?
Wrigley said the organization has tapped into the idea that it’s more than just a farmers market. In addition to farm-fresh vegetables, the market offers specialty food items, quality handmade items, live entertainment, and educational seminars. It also mixes up special events each season and changes out the old for something new that might be more relevant.
“Throughout the years, Redmond Saturday Market has grown and become more than just a traditional farmers market,” explained Wrigley. “That’s why we’re Redmond Saturday Market, not the Redmond Farmers Market.”
A team of committed volunteers and staff members also helps. Many staff member started out as volunteers and were groomed into their current positions. “We have fantastic volunteers and staff,” added Wrigley. “Everyone is truly passionate about the market and wants it to be a success. Working for the market is a labor of love — our paid staff gets very modest pay, and some of our volunteers work just as hard if not more.”
Finally, this might seem like a small detail, but the market is dog-friendly. “Most farmers markets don’t allow dogs, but we do,” said Wrigley. “We even have pet-adoption opportunities.”
That’s not to say Redmond Saturday Market hasn’t faced its share of setbacks and obstacles over the years.
There wasn’t enough money to open the market in 2009, so a sponsorship program was created.
The biggest challenge has been finding a long-term, permanent home. The market has had to relocate four times over the past 42 years. It leases its current space from the owners of Redmond Town Center and operates under a year-to-year lease, according to Wrigley. A city ordinance preserves the current market site, located at 7730 Leary Way NE, as an open and undeveloped space. But market organizers are concerned the ordinance could be overturned someday, or they may not be able to afford the annual rent.
“We’ve investigated other location possibilities within the city of Redmond in hopes of a more sustainable arrangement,” said Wrigley. “And we’re currently working on attaining a 501c3 nonprofit status to get more grants and sponsorship.”
Mark your calendar for May 6, when Redmond Saturday Market celebrates opening day beginning at 9 a.m. and looks ahead to another 40-plus years.