Twin Sisters Markets: For Community, By Community
by Annika Sampson
You might know the Twin Sisters as the distinctive double peaks that tower on the Whatcom County horizon. They’re also the namesake of Twin Sisters Markets, a collaborative effort to bring healthy, local food to three locations across the county. Twin Sisters Markets operate three mobile, cooperative farm stands in Birchwood, Nugents Corner, and Kendall, using an innovative, farmer-led model to support small farms and customers alike.
There’s already something inherently special in sustainable, local agriculture, but Twin Sisters takes it to the next level. Market manager Cat Sieh explains, “Most of our fruits and veggies come from within a few miles of the markets themselves.” And since the markets are located in areas of Whatcom County that are considered food insecure, fresh produce is getting in the hands of those who may not otherwise have access to it. For example, when Albertson’s closed in the Birchwood neighborhood in 2016, it left residents with minimal options for groceries.
Sieh shares, “Some people are starting to use the term ‘food apartheid’ terminology, since ‘food desert’ only includes geography. And this isn’t just about geography, it’s about race, class, and any number of other factors that can contribute to having a difficult time accessing healthy foods. We really aim to bring equitable access to Whatcom County.”
That equitable access takes a variety of forms. For the farms and farmers themselves, Twin Sisters functions as a kind of unofficial incubator program. Experienced farmers like Anna Morris from Slanted Sun Farm have mentored countless smaller farmers through the growing and selling process, giving them critical and compassionate insight into crop planning, packing, presenting, pricing, and more. Mid-scale Whatcom growers like Mariposa Family Farm, Sunseed Farm, and Spring Time Farm have stepped up to support smaller or newer famers who may not be able to consistently provide a fully stocked booth at a farmers market.
The collaborative model extends beyond mentorship and support, too. Each market sells fresh produce and products from small, local farmers under one stand. Farmer members and market staff take turns working the market, which means that farmers can spend more time growing and tending to the crops that we’re all so excited to taste.
Sieh knows firsthand the power of collaboration when it comes to the lifelong work and love of sustainable agriculture. She moved to Bellingham in 2008 with a background in communications and journalism, but found her way out to the county in 2013, when she purchased 10 acres and delved into the work of perennial and permaculture plantings – not to mention raising a small flock of Icelandic sheep. She met farmers, took workshops, and devoured extension resources. “With farming, you never stop learning,” she says. “Bring a beginner’s mind.”
You never stop learning when it comes to growing resilient, healthy communities, either. 2021 ushers in a new, exciting era of Twin Sisters Markets and all that they offer to the people and neighborhoods they serve. Twin Sisters recently received a competitive USDA grant that allowed them to fund updates to the program as well as bring Sieh onto the team. Sieh will regularly staff the Birchwood Market, WWU graduate Zosia Sherwood will be at the Kendall Market, and Nugents Corner will be staffed by various member farmers. Twin Sisters will offer El Fuego Hot Sauce, Beeworks Honey, Raven Breads, 3 Generations Jam, as well as meat and eggs from FarmWild and Sage & Sky. They will also accept EBT, SNAP, and a market match up to $40 per day per purchase. Every market showcases the very best of what Whatcom County grows, makes, and shares.
Many of the farmers at Twin Sisters are Food to Bank On graduates, which means that they’ve participated in a long-running Sustainable Connections program that provides business training, market support, and mentorship to new and emerging farmers. Not only that, many of the farmers, makers, and board members are just good friends and collaborators.
Annah and Ellie of City Sprouts Farm founded the Birchwood Farmers Market and also farm at the Cloud Mountain Farm Center incubator site. Vertical Fog Farm also grows at the same incubator, and Rob is known across the county for his bright, fresh greens. Savannah of Flynn Farms and also farms at the incubator site and her farm is proud to be powered by women. These farmers don’t just share land, they also share in the work and dedication it takes to feed and nourish their communities.
That spirit of comradery is at the heart of Twin Sisters Markets. And guess what? You can taste it in the food. Don’t take our word for it, though – try it for yourself! And while you’re at it, pick up some rhubarb and make Sieh’s favorite crumble.
Markets will be open Saturdays from June to October. The Birchwood Market will be open from 9 AM to 2 PM at 1538 Birchwood Avenue in the parking lot in front of Big Lots. The Kendall Market will be open from 10 AM to 2 PM at the North Fork Library at 7506 Kendall Road. And the Nugents Corner Market will be open from 9 AM to 3 PM at the Bluebird Building at 3833 Mt. Baker Highway.
No matter which market you visit, you’re sure to get hyper-local, hyper-fresh food that supports your health as well as the health and sustainability of the communities we all love.