Thursday, August 31, 2017 / by Christine Robertson
I recently had the privilege of interviewing the Market Manager at the Vashon Island Growers Association, Caleb Johns.
During our interview, Caleb began by telling me about the history of The Vashon Island Growers Association, and how he became involved.
The Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) began in the 1980s as a small farmers market. By the 1990’s, it grew so much that it needed a new location. After 27 years, VIGA still stands at The Vashon Village Green and continues to flourish.
Caleb’s journey with The Vashon Island Growers Association began eight years ago, after moving back to the island. As intriguing as the position was at the time, he’ll admit that he wasn’t quite ready to take on such a big role. When the position reopened four years later, Caleb knew the time had come, and after a short conversation with the President of VIGA, he was absolutely convinced.
He then goes on the explain that The Vashon Island Growers Association is actually a nine-person board that runs a 501(c)(3), non-profit on the island. Their mission is “To promote farming, access to healthy food, and a sustainable agricultural economy on Vashon Island through education, advocacy, and a vibrant farmers market.”
One of the many ways that they do this is through the Vashon Island Farmers Market. As the market manager of the Vashon Island Farmers Market, it’s Caleb’s job to operate the farmers market in accordance with VIGA’s mission. With previous experience in hospitality, he was confident that he could not only take on all of the operations of the farmers market but improve them.
As Caleb notes, it’s not always easy. While streamlining operations and hiring a bookkeeper made things run more smoothly, the job became a bit more complicated with the addition of the Food Access Program. Run by Merrilee Runyan, the Food Access Program worked diligently to get the farmers market licensed to accept food stamps. More recently, they’ve been developing incentives for those that shop at the farmers market. When Food Stamp customers shop at the Farmers Market, VIGA matches the first $10 spent each week with $10 in Market Bucks to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the program distributes coupons to the island nonprofits, who share them with clients and/or use them to purchase food for client meal preparation.
Looking to the future, Caleb has big hopes and dreams for the Vashon Island Farmers Market. With the farmers market being as popular as it is, consumer demand is higher than ever. Because of this, it’s clear that they’re close to outgrowing the village space. In fact, they received a grant to work with architectural students to create a larger space, which will ultimately allow the current local vendors to grow, and give more vendors the opportunity to participate. Though nothing is set in stone, Caleb hopes that a plan will be put into place in the next few years.
As the farmers market continues to grow, it’s clear that local islanders are frequenting less. Many of its consumers are not local, which tends to create a little more chaos. Ultimately, it’s Caleb's dream to create the best of both worlds. He knows that it’s important to connect with islanders, and give local businesses a chance to thrive.
Caleb will be the first to tell you that his job doesn’t feel like work. He genuinely believes that there’s no place like the Vashon Farmers Market.
At the end of the day, it is just something you have to see for yourself.
If you have any questions, or if you have a topic you’d like me to cover in one of these videos, give me a call, or send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!