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On The Scene: Bringing local downtown

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On the Scene
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Portland's newest farmers market will take place in Pioneer Square midday on Mondays.

Pioneer Square is a hub of activity all summer, from the flower sale to big-screen movies and music festivals. Yesterday, Pioneer Square saw a kind of activity it hadn't experienced in fifteen years: a farmer's market.

Yesterday was what some call the "longest rainy day of the year:" not an ideal time for a market, given the gloomy weather. But the Square was packed with families, tourists, shoppers, and many businessmen and women from neighboring buildings, taking a lunch at Portland's newest farmers market.

The Pioneer Square market is about half the size of the Saturday market at PSU, said Jared Foster of the Portland Farmers Market organization. But he expects the 45-50 vendors to have a high amount of foot traffic in such a central location.

Farmer's markets have been doing well all over Oregon, and this year brings the Portland farmers market's largest expansion to date, with an additional new market Thursdays at NW 23rd.

This season, revenues have increased for vendors by 8 percent. Last year, the vendors saw even sales, no average growth or decline, which was impressive for the recession economy. Farmers markets have found new and different customers in order to grow in hard times.

At the big PSU market on Saturdays, a vendor can expect to make $900 on average for each 10 by 10 foot canopy. Foster projected an average of $600-700 for the Pioneer Square location.

The hope for the Pioneer Square market is that it will attract lunchtime employees from local businesses, tourists, and others who are passing through Portland center to consider making local food a part of their lives.

"Anything that gets local food to local people is good for us," said Foster. Portland Farmer's Market is a nonprofit organization which runs its markets on vendor fees and sponsorships.

The Monday market will be at the Square every week until October from 10am to 2pm, the square's busiest time of day. According to numbers collected by Pioneer Square, 30,000 people walk through each day. That's almost double the amount who go to a typical Saturday farmer's market: 16,000.

I met a few people at the market who worked in nearby buildings and came down for lunch.

One woman said she saw the market out the window. "I go to the Wednesday market, and this is even closer. I also like that they have more lunches here."

Indeed, among the fresh produce and cut flowers, I saw quite a few tents selling sandwiches, soups, and pastries. Quite a few businesspeople shopped around while eating cookies from a Portland bakery.

It is yet to be seen if produce will sell as well as lunch to the downtown crowd. It's clear that the location is prime for foot traffic and even a few drivers. One young woman told me she was driving by on her way home from the airport.

"I like to buy local, and this is as local as it gets."

Angela Webber is online editor for Oregon Business.
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