The Tigard Area Farmers' Market board is still looking for possible sites for this year's market

TIGARD - For Jim Steele, the news of the uncertain future of the Tigard Area Farmers' Market came too late.

The Aloha resident and his wife Bonnie had already been hard at work nurturing 2,000 tomato plants when they got the word: the Tigard Area Farmers' Market is officially homeless.

With little more than a month to go before the market's scheduled opening day of May 11, Mother's Day, the market has no place to operate. And aside from a small farmers' market in Sherwood, Jim and Bonnie aren't too sure how they're going to sell all of their tomatoes.

On March 20, volunteers with the Tigard Area Farmers Market announced that the event had lost its space at the Washington Square Too. Representatives of the shopping complex had opened up a 40,000-square-foot space to the market three years ago with a warning that the site would eventually be developed.

'We thought we had a nice permanent spot at Washington Square and darned if they don't want to expand and develop,' said market board president Stan Baumhofer. 'But we knew it wouldn't be forever.'

Market board members and market manager Trish Stormont weren't surprised by the announcement that the space wouldn't be available this year.

'A farmers' market utilizes under-utilized space,' Stormont said. 'And there's becoming less and less of that out there now.'

The Tigard Area Farmers' Market started 18 years ago. Baumhofer was among the small group of passionate residents who created it. And since it started, the market has outgrown three spaces, something Baumhofer notes with a sense of pride showing how the market has grown in popularity.

In the weeks since the announcement, the market board has not had any luck finding a replacement venue for the traditional Sunday market. Stormont said while one site might have adequate vendor space it might lack customer parking or vendor parking space. The market group is looking for a space that satisfies all three needs - market room and parking for vendors and customers.

On any given Sunday the Tigard market, which usually lasts from Mother's Day to the last Sunday in October, would draw about 2,000 cars through its customer parking lot. And a parade of farmers' vans and trucks can set up in a parking lot like a small town enveloping a large space in no time, Stormont said.

Board members are looking into a possible space in downtown Tigard, and they're also considering the option of having the market on a weekday rather than the traditional Sunday. Baumhofer said he is still willing to accept suggestions or offers for spaces. Residents with ideas on where to hold the market are encouraged to call Baumhofer at 503-709-7669.

Baumhofer and Stormont are almost certain the market will not make its scheduled opening date of May 11. Stormont is hopeful the group may be able find a smaller venue for a later opening.

But the worst that could happen, Stormont admitted, is if the market could not open this year.

Even if the market had a delayed opening, it wouldn't open soon enough for the Steeles. The couples' tomato plants need to be sold by the end of June.

Jim is the market manager for the Sherwood Farmers' Market which operates on Saturdays and starts May 3. This year, Jim said he will rely on the Sherwood market to sell his plants.

The Steeles have participated in the Tigard Area Farmers' Market since the beginning. Jim admits the couple got into the farmers' market to make money. But that didn't work out.

Today, requests from loyal customers for old-time favorite tomatoes that their grandmothers used to grow, keeps the Steeles content with their side business.

'Making all those people happy that's what keeps us coming back,' Jim said.

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