Outages impact Farmers Market

 

Last updated 8/1/2023 at 10:05am

Photo by TL Brown

Shelley Akres of Bohemian Roastery observed a decline in sales at Sisters Farmers Market on Sunday, due to cell phone and Internet outages.

Two visitors met up with friends at Fir Street Park last Sunday, aiming for Sisters Farmers Market.

"Our phones are down!" cried one young woman.

"Oh my God!" responded another.

A small crowd gathered, discussing the collective tragedy of having zero bars on their mobile phones. Kids shouted in the background, running through the fountains of the splash pad.

"I find I'm getting anxious without my phone on," said one woman. "I keep wondering, what's going on?"

Close by was Andre Ilyin, a regular vendor at the Market, selling High Peak Granola. He said he lives in Bend but noticed "there was no connection once we got to Sisters." The outage affected not just cell phone connectivity but Internet access in general.

People throughout Sisters Country lost electrical power beginning shortly after midnight on Saturday, July 29, in the early morning hours of July 30. A passenger vehicle and a gas tanker truck had collided at the intersection of Highway 126 and Cloverdale Road. The tanker was breached and a major fire ensued, impinging on power and utility lines.

While power was restored within several hours, cell and Internet service remained down throughout the day for many businesses and households. The outage strongly affected vendors and marketgoers.

"Of course we've seen some decline in sales because we couldn't take credit cards," said Ilyin. "People have to manage their cash properly, spend it on their fruits and veggies first."

Sales were down compared to a normal week, but Ilyin was able to take cash. He also sold some granola on a trust basis.

"We tell people they can grab a bag now and pay for it later through Venmo," Ilyin explained. He said people were "kind of surprised - but they're the nicest people, here in Sisters."

Though Fir Street Park was friendly and bustling, it lacked the larger crowds and more intensive shopping of a typical Sunday. Shelley Akres of Bohemian Roastery noticed the difference.

The booth she runs in collaboration with her partner sells artisanal, small-batch, wood-fired coffee beans. It's a familiar sight at the Market.

"We are always here for the full season. This is our sixth year at Sisters Farmers Market," said Akres.

"We love it. This is our favorite in the whole of Central Oregon," she said. "You can bring your dogs and kids and run through the splash pad, and have a lot of shade on a hot, sunny day. It just feels like an old-fashioned farmers market. It's a happy place."

Without platforms such as Square online to swipe credit and debit cards, fewer people were out and about with shopping on their minds.

"It's been definitely a lot slower today. Most of the town looks slower," Akres reported.

While vehicle traffic was thick, "a lot of stores are shut down or taking cash only. Foot traffic is slow."

At Bohemian Roastery, Akres processed transactions without a hitch. Her AT&T phone worked just fine. Meanwhile, a nearby marketgoer talked about how he couldn't get any access - on his AT&T phone.

Willa Bauman manages Sisters Farmers Market.

"This morning we started setting up and realized that no one could text each other," she said. Nor could most vendors process credit cards or debit cards, "which is about half of what most people see in payments. We realized we were going to be cash-only, all day."

Providing SNAP customers with a smooth experience is important to Seed to Table, the nonprofit organization that runs Sisters Farmers Market. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a benefit program enabling people to buy groceries, including many of the locally farmed and ranched goods available at the Farmers Market.

At the Market every week, SNAP customers stop by the info booth to collect tokens they can use to buy food. SNAP customers are typically eligible to receive an additional $20 worth of food free of charge through the Double Up Food Bucks program.

Lack of Internet and cell access didn't stand in their way last Sunday.

"Luckily, we're able to run something called offline vouchers," Bauman said. "We were still able to give everyone SNAP tokens and Double Up Food Bucks today."

Bauman looks forward to increasing the visibility of fresh local food for SNAP customers in upcoming months.

"We received a grant from The Roundhouse Foundation recently to work on SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks outreach, so we're excited to start branching out with flyers and in-person talks," she said.

In the meantime, those curious about how SNAP and additional benefits work at the Market can learn more at http://www.sistersfarmersmarket.com/snap or drop by the info booth in person.

Sisters Farmers Market is open through the end of September, on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Featuring free entertainment and no admission fee, the Market takes place at Fir Street Park, one block north of Cascade Avenue/Highway 20. A program of the nonprofit organization Seed to Table, it can be found on the web at sistersfarmersmarket.com or on Instagram at @sistersfarmersmarket.

 

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