Tuesday evening was beautiful at Urban Eden Farm in Spokane. The weather was perfect. It was cool, but that was welcome after weeks of heat. Flocks of Canadian geese flew overhead and several Blue Herons were also spotted as over 200 people enjoyed a meal just east of a field of carrots.  The farmer sitting next to me said that this valley could feed all of Spokane if it was in production. But sadly it isn’t. Most of the farms here didn’t survive. They are overgrown, maybe even abandoned. The field of carrots is the only evidence of agriculture on this land as far as I can see.

This was the location for the Spokane Farmers’ Market’s Feast with the Farmers. The event was coordinated and organized on the fly after the sticker shock of the high cost of property taxes. For the past eleven years the Spokane Farmers’ Market has been operating on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the parking lot of First Covenant Church without property taxes being a line item in their budget. The market has always paid for insurance, advertising, part time staff and some other miscellaneous costs but thousands of dollars of taxes were never in the picture until earlier this year when the Department of Revenue discovered that tax exempt property (like that of a church) cannot host a farmers’ market.  The parking lot at Second and Division and other church parking lots hosting farmers’ markets have been taken out of tax exempt status with the price tag falling on the backs of the farmers’ markets.

It isn’t that the Spokane Farmers’ Market is hurting. It is more successful than ever. Just ask anyone who has been there recently. The little Market on Second and Division really isn’t so little. It will bring half a million dollars to small Washington farmers and producers this year. The Market will make farming viable for Tolstoy Farm, for Cliffside Orchards, for Lylo’s Garden and others just like it has for over a decade.  It will keep these farmers on the farm. It will keep their land growing food instead of laying fallow.  And that is really incredible. “Farmers and ranchers are now less than 1 percent of the population – there are more people in prison than there are farmers and ranchers on the land. So deeply are they in the minority that their concerns and priorities rarely make it to the table. (Deeply Rooted, 185)”

The gathering at Urban Eden Farm brought the farmers concerns to the table. The people eating the beet and tomato salad wanted to ensure that the farmers could stay on the farm, the Market would be there when they were shopping for local food, and the taxes were paid. Hundreds of dollars were raised for the market in what seemed like an uneventful silent auction. Most people were enjoying the food that had quite literally just been picked and chatting with the farmers. I learned about the devastation of an unplugged electrical cord in the greenhouse, a bumper apricot crop, and the challenge of growing specialty crops like donut peaches. When the live auction came around and a huckleberry pie sold for $70 the farmers sitting next to me were smiling from ear to ear in the candle light. They couldn’t believe it. All these people were here for them. They wanted local food to be available, they wanted to keep farmers on the farm, and they wanted to pay the taxes. They also wanted huckleberry pie.

Angela Pizelo, Market Manager
Liberty Lake Farmers’ Market
August 12, 2009