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Wednesday farmers’ market — the migratory years

2021 is the 4oth birthday of the Wednesday farmers’ market and the 30th birthday for the Saturday farmers’ market in Corvallis

Photos courtesy OSU Special Collections and Archives Research Center — found in Benton County Extension Service collection

Left: 2nd & B in the early 1980s. Below: Avery Square, later that decade.


Wednesday farmers’ market — the migratory years

by Rebecca Landis

In 2001, I wrote a brief history of the Wednesday market for its 20th birthday.

Back then, newspaper research was a process of educated guesses about what date I would find display or classified ads.

Reading microfilmed newspapers brings on headaches and dizziness if you do it for long. There were still questions that I could not answer without reading literally years of papers.

Now, as the market turns 40, I have access to digital search tools. A much sharper picture of the early market’s migrations through town has emerged.

Most current customers likely know the Wednesday farmers’ market in one or two locations on the downtown Riverfront (2009 to the present) or the Benton County Fairgrounds (1988 through 2008).

From 1981 through 1987, farmers’ markets were held in no fewer than six Corvallis locations. I haven’t attempted to document the reasons for each move, but at least one was prompted by a site owner suggesting deletion of certain products from market offerings. That’s why we stick to publicly owned sites these days.

It would alarm me if a farmers’ market today moved as frequently and rapidly as I’m documenting here. But organizers of the early Wednesday markets largely had to make it up as they went along. The modern farmers’ market movement in Oregon was still in its infancy in the 1980s. Corvallis and Albany were two of only 12 farmers’ markets listed in a 1987 Oregonian article.

The road to today’s downtown market started … downtown. The first market was July 22, 1981 at 4th and Van Buren, a small city lot next to an older version of the main fire station. It appears the city council didn’t give formal approval until the day before opening.

(This appears to be the fire station parking lot in 1981. See photo credits above.)

The following year, the market headed to 2nd & B, the south end of the Riverfront – long before its redevelopment. Market organizer Tom Denison was quoted as saying the move promised more space for both vendors and customers. The market operated there for the 1982 and 1983 seasons plus most of the 1984 season.

Five weeks before the end of the 1984 season, the market moved north to the parking lot of the Cannery Mall at 9th and Polk.

In a June 1985 newspaper article, Jane Striplin, another market organizer, said the move was made for convenience and parking. A Cannery spokesperson indicated the 1984 experiment was successful and resulted in a return invite for 1985.

By August of that year, the honeymoon suggested by the June article was over. Less than a year after leaving 2nd & B, the market continued its migration. On Aug. 7, 1985, the market opened in the Payless parking lot – where Market of Choice is today.

The Wednesday market Payless phase was a small mystery for years. A few vendors remembered it, but my initial microfilm research had found only weekend events – markets Payless put on, rather than the farmers’ market association. Those events continued for years after the farmers’ market left.

Payless apparently was not the Promised Land. By April of 1986, farmers’ market organizers were publicly seeking a new location that could accommodate 70 vendor spaces and a like number of spaces for customer cars.

This was a “moon and stars” ask. I support the adage that “You’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask,” but it didn’t work in this instance. Another adage, “Politics is the art of the possible,” is perhaps a better fit for 1986 farmers’ market events.

The first two 1986 markets took place June 11 and 18 at the National Guard Armory at 1315 “E” Street, south of the OSU campus. This site is now covered by apartments. And the street is now Avenue E.

Starting with the market on June 25, 1986, the market moved to Avery Square off 9th Street, not far from the Cannery site.

Avery Square tenant Doug Eldon sought out the farmers’ market as a neighbor even though his business inside was selling produce. Doug, who later worked for Denison Farms and now Riverland Family Farms, says his hoped-for synergy did not work out there.

The market stayed two seasons, through 1987. In 1988, the market landed at the Benton County Fairgrounds and found its stride. It became a morning market. Except for 2009-10, it has been a morning market ever since.

Its original parent organization, the Mid-Willamette Growers Association, in 1988 reached a milestone of 10 years at its flagship Albany downtown market.

Ten years later, I was managing all three farmers’ markets under Corvallis-Albany Farmers’ Markets. The third market was Corvallis Saturday, now the largest farmers’ market in Benton and Linn counties.

Wednesday markets continued at the Fairgrounds another 10 years until the 2009 season, when we returned as an afternoon market to a redeveloped 2nd & B that looked nothing like it had in the early 1980s. Dirt and gravel had given way to a graceful curvilinear asphalt parking lot with an (attempted) bioswale in the middle and views of the river confluence.

Parking was tight, and the pavement was too radiant on many afternoons. Despite our attempts to make a cheery appearance with solar lights, Corvallis customers were not embracing “night market” culture late in the season, when it was getting dark even after we trimmed the last hour.

Then a sewer project forced us to leave for the 2011 season.

We chose a short move — a few blocks north — to the current Wednesday market site, which is a piece of the larger Saturday site. We’ve been there ever since.