Bauman lands dream job at Sisters Farmers Market

 

Last updated 6/6/2023 at 2:15pm

Photo by Joey Gabianelli

Sisters Farmers Market's new manager, Willa Bauman, at her small farm, with her cat Vermicelli.

Managers of Sisters Farmers Market have run the gamut over the years - farmers, a chef, and a registered nurse. Each brought passion and hard work to the position. This year, the Market's parent organization Seed to Table, has hired a farmer and vendor with a deep history in nonprofit markets: Willa Bauman.

Market life runs in Bauman's blood. She grew up in the countryside west of Eugene. There her parents baked their own goods and sold them at the long-running, open-air Saturday Market downtown.

Dana's Cheesecake Bakery had a licensed home facility right outside of the family's house. "I was homeschooled and my parents were always at home," explained Bauman.

"My father was the primary baker. Generally I would have lessons with my mom in the house in the mornings," she continued.

Come afternoons, Bauman would join her dad.

"We would do spelling tests while he was working," she said. "The bakery was warm, it smelled like cheesecake. One of my favorite things are the hot cheesecake bits around the edges; he would always save those for me."

On Saturdays, the family went to Saturday Market, with its signature hand-made goods and celebratory atmosphere.

"I would work the front counter for the first couple hours, standing on a crate. That's how I learned math, counting back change at the market," she recalled.

People working at the market kept an eye on each other's kids, who ran around together.

"There were a lot of different 'parents' in my life," Bauman said. "That was a big part of my life, being a kid at Market. It was a nice community to grow up in."

She appreciates that her hometown's bustling market enabled her family and others to create small businesses. Without that infrastructure, Dana's Cheesecake might not have been possible.

Vendors could better live their values with that infrastructure in place.

"The market community made it possible for me to be homeschooled and for us to have the life that we wanted," she said.

Bauman took classes at Lane Community College during her teen years, then studied English literature at Reed College in Portland.

She found herself heading to the Park Blocks in downtown Portland, watching people set up for the farmers market.

"I was missing that aspect of community," she said.

"When I graduated from college in 2013, I wanted to get as far away from academia as possible," Willa recalled. "I wanted to do something real and practical, something tangible."

She started by growing her own food.

"My parents had gardens, but I had never really gardened before. I'd been an indoor girl, into literature," she said.

She taught herself to garden and got to the point where she considered herself "food self-sufficient."

Her parents had a 100-year-old barn on their property, which she remodeled and lived in for most of her twenties. "Remodeling that barn was the first time I'd used power tools," she remembered.

In 2016, Bauman had what she described as a wake-up call, wanting to give more back to her community.

"My community, when I thought about it, was Saturday Market," she said.

She ran for the nonprofit board managing the Market and was elected, then appointed to chair of the board.

"I was appointed to lead the search committee for our new general manager," she said. "Saturday Market was without a general manager for several months, so I got to volunteer with other board members to take on many day-to-day logistics."

Up close, she was immersed in the logistical and strategic concerns of running a market and a nonprofit.

"I learned, trial by fire, what it takes to run a market, to run a nonprofit," she described. "I really fell in love with the nonprofit sector and the group process." She volunteered at other area markets, in downtown Veneta and in Eugene's Whiteaker district, to learn about their differences and similarities.

Book-learning beckoned again, this time in a more practical program. "I decided my dream job was to become a market manager," she said. "That's why I went to grad school for nonprofit management at U of O, with a concentration in food studies."

Bauman earned her master's in nonprofit management at the University of Oregon, graduating in 2020.

She also ran the nonprofit Toolbox Project, a tool library and fix-it fair, a job she described as "too good." Nevertheless, she left it to focus on farming for a year. Then she saw a job listing for the Sisters Farmers Market program manager position. Her dream job awaited.

"I'm enjoying coming into this community a lot," Bauman said of Sisters.

She spends time here, but lives in the town of McKenzie Bridge downriver, where she and her partner Joey Gabianelli are farmers themselves. They vend at farmers markets from Eugene to Bend, selling fresh produce along with canned goods, like pickles and "cowboy candy" - candied jalapeños.

"I have a curiosity about new communities," explained Bauman. "One thing I've found is that all markets are distinct but they're all really similar. Vendor concerns are the same. They want consistency."

Communities with markets typically want traffic but without congestion, Bauman has learned.

"Keeping customers in the space. Figuring out what makes a Market unique to each community," are common goals.

This year will mark Sisters Farmers Market's fourth season as a program of the nonprofit organization Seed to Table.

"Seed to Table's professionalism and consistency help the Market grow every year," Bauman said.

Looking over the numbers, she saw that last year was "a great season with great growth." As she has heard from locals involved, "Getting through the 2020 season probably would not have happened without Seed to Table's support."

This summer, Bauman looks forward to continuing the market's success while she gets to know Sisters better. Long term, she's excited about "building the community engagement aspect of the Market - a place where you can buy groceries, or come and have a nice day in the park."

She noted that Fir Street Park is available free of charge to the public during market hours. The Market's role of gathering place is compelling to Bauman, and music is an important factor. She is excited to start off the season with a local trio. "Sugar Sweet String Band is our opening day band on June 4," she said. The band will kick off around 11:30 a.m. (see related story, page 11).

Sisters Farmers Market's new hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday, June through September. The market takes place at Fir Street Park, a half-block north of Cascade Avenue on the corner of Main and Fir. Learn more at sistersfarmersmarket.com or follow their Instagram, @sistersfarmersmarket.

 

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