“My sister Sheryl(Lehr) was contacted by a downtown business promotions group,” Calam said. “They wanted to know if she would be interested in heading up a farmer’s market.”
“My sister told them ‘not by myself, let me ask my sister,’ and I knew it lined up with what I had been praying about,” Calam continued.
Soon, the sisters were tailoring their memories of what a farmer’s market was like in the Pacific northwest to the central plains.
“Every market is a little different,” Calam said. “We grew up in Oregon, where they get a lot of fresh vegetables early in the summer. But we also know that each one has a unique feel.”
The living color of Hillsboro’s market can be seen at 5 p.m. every Thursday at the historic Schaeffler house at the corner of Grand and Jefferson.
“Our main location last year was on the corner of Grand and Washington until it got too hot,” Calam said. “We were looking for a different location, and the historical society asked if we would like to hold it on those grounds.”
Calam described the area as a parklike setting with permanant shade. The grounds also provide access to ammenities that have been essential to the sisters’ efforts.
“When we were just starting, we decided to try to create an atmosphere where people could come with a lawn chair, bring a friend and visit with their neighbor,” she said.
People are coming, and various groups have taken on the task of providing supper for the crowds.
Calam estimates that $30,000 changed hands last year.
“That exceeded our expectations, so we were really happy with our first year,” she said. “We weren’t really sure what to expect, and to me, that was a lot of money to have come through the market.”
The market has room to grow, and Calam expects that it will. “There’s always a place for another vendor,” she said. “We’re open to many things as far as what can be sold…people just need to find their niche and fill it.”
Early in the season, most vendors bring baked goods. As the season progresses, the range of available items will grow to include a great variety of fruits and vegetables, fresh ground grains, organic eggs, and a range of decorative items.
“At this point, there’s not a lot of produce. People have been doing very well with their baked goods,” she added. “There have been fresh flowers, radishes, tomatos and rhubarb, and that part will increase over the summer.”
Calam said she is not sure how the grains will do: “we’re not sure, but we think it is important to be able to get fresh ground grains in our town.”
She said that they are “always looking for more people who want to grow and sell organic food…we really want people to not underestimate what they can do with their gardens.”
Decorative items have included hand-made jewelry and woodwork.
“We always want people to come and display their work,” Calam said.
Calam suggested anyone interested in selling should contact her or her sister in advance.
“There’s a fee of $5 for a table for a night or $15 for a month,” she said. “The fee goes to advertising and improving the market—me and my sister are volunteers.”
Groups interested in providing a meal, should contact Calam soon.
“I have the calendar for that, and the calendar is filling up quickly,” she said. “People have found that to be a good fundraiser, and if people are interested in doing that, they should call me soon.”
Two weeks ago on the first night of the new season, roughly 200 hot dogs were sold. The next week, a group prepared 150 meals and ran out of food.
“We expect every night a crowd of at least 150 who come to buy something,” Calam said.
“And we’d encourage people to come even if they don’t want to buy,” she said. “We’ve provided some benches where people can come and just relax and partake of the atmosphere we’ve got.
“We often have music,” she continued. “And we get a fairly large cross-section of the community—from little kids who come with their parents all the way up to retired people.”
Some vendors travel in from other towns, but many are local.
“We see a lot of Hillsboro people,” Calam said. “We also see a lot from other towns—I personally know some who come from other towns every week, and we’ve had vendors come from as far away as Abilene.”
Parking is available on Grand and Jefferson at Hillsboro High School or at the Lutheran church nearby.
Calam said that the majority of sellers are individuals, but that some people who have businesses who bring their product to market—but most are people who grew or made something to sell.
She spoke at length about the advantages of selling at the market: “the beautiful thing about helping to keep the market going is that you help bring a store to the people.
“You have a group of people that come every single Thursday night with the intention to buy. It varies some, but we have a lot of regulars…a lot of our vendors have repeat customers.”
“If you do something well—if you grow or bake or cook well—then you should come down. If it is good quality and fresh and it looks good, people will buy it.”
One little niche Calam would like to see filled is for smaller portions, because she would “like to see more vendors catering to single people.”
In a broader view, Calam thinks the market can help individuals eat fresher food and whole foods, and that it benefits the whole town.
“I’d really like to see people eating healthier food, and eating locally is huge, too, both because of the price of gas and because we should support what we can do here in our own town,” she said.
“We can have a big impact.”
“We should ask about the kind of impact we’re having, and we (as a community) should probably think a little bit larger than we do.”
Sales start at 5 p.m. every Thursday all summer.