This week our guest is Amber Holland, operations director for Portland Farmers Markets. In our interview we discuss PFM’s efforts to reduce waste at farmers’ markets, the challenges of placing vendors when your market becomes a construction zone, and Amber’s passion for creating inclusive community gathering spaces for Portland residents and visitors. Listen along for some great ideas on how to make your market more eco-friendly!

Portland Farmers Market’s Durable Dining dirty dish return station

The art of relocating vendors

When Amber was hired by Portland Farmers Markets in 2007 she had never even been to a farmers’ market before. But over the last 11+ years, she’s filled many different roles at PFM: market coordinator, volunteer management, part time accounting assistant, and now operations director. In her current position, Amber oversees PFM’s six farmers’ markets and gets to solve complex problems, like rearranging the market schematic and communicating with vendors.

This summer an extensive construction project impacted the Portland State University Farmers Market’s location, which hosts up to 125 vendors and 175 booths. Amber had to relocate a few long-time vendors who’s booths were in the line of fire. To help ease the pain of moving to a new spot in the market, Amber arranged for the placement of additional signage and reduced stall fees for vendors who had to relocate. These accommodations made up for the inconvenience and temporary dip in sales.

When moving a vendor to a new booth location, Amber believes that communication and time for vendors to adjust are key. “I started those conversations in the middle of last year,” explained Amber. “Nobody wants to be surprised on Saturday morning and find out that they’re not where they’re supposed to be.”

Reduce, reuse, reuse, reuse, reuse…

One of the most notable aspects of the PSU market are the various efforts to reduce waste. The most ambitious of which is their Durable Dining program. All hot food vendors are required to serve their goods exclusively on reusable dishware. The vendors provide the durable plates, utensils and cups, and the market provides bussing stations.

In addition to making the PSU Market more eco-friendly, the Durable Dining program has also added value to the overall experience of the market. Setting up a system by which market visitors can eat off real plates with real utensils makes their eating experience that much more enjoyable. “Our food is incredible,” says Amber, “now it feels like we’ve upped our game a little bit, and as a consequence reduced the waste.”

Despite it’s success, Amber is the first to admit that it was an ambitious project to put in place. “I certainly wouldn’t recommend that farmers’ markets jump from styrofoam plates into durable dining. I don’t think it would go over well with anybody.” Amber suggests starting with simple steps towards a more eco-friendly market. Markets can reduce waste and increase revenue by selling reusable items like shopping bags and coffee cups.

Fostering an inclusive farmers’ market community

In addition to all the other things Amber loves about her job, she is particularly proud of PFM’s progress in creating vibrant community gathering spaces for Portland residents and visitors. Some of the ways this is accomplished is by matching SNAP benefits and offering on-demand translation services at their markets.

PFM also strives for inclusion in their vendor recruitment. Amber believes it’s really important to “talk about what we’re doing and why it is for everybody.” Through focused outreach to underserved business owners and farmers, PFM hopes to increase the diversity of their vendors and shoppers.

Where can I listen to Amber’s full episode of Tent Talk?

There are many ways to listen to Tent Talk. You can stream directly from our website or by clicking the player below. You can also easily listen on a mobile device via iTunesStitcher, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes!

Do you have a farmers’ market question you’d like us to answer on air? Got an idea for a future episode topic? Is there someone you think we should interview? Please let us know!

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