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Farmer reflects on 20 years in Tigard

Tigard Area Farmers Market opens Sunday near City Hall


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Strawberries will be ready for picking early this year, thanks to the warm spring weather. Thats good news for the Ungers who plan on selling their berries at the Tigard Area Farmers Market when it opens this Sunday.For two decades, the Tigard Area Farmers Market has been offering fresh produce and other must-have foods to shoppers.

And for nearly all of that time, Kathy Unger has been there.

Unger, who co-owns Unger Farms in Cornelius, is a staple at Washington County farmers markets. She and her husband Matt have been selling their strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and grapes in Tigard since the market’s earliest days.

“With the warm spring, this is way further along than normal,” Unger said on Monday, her hands gently cupping a small green berry in a row of plants on her Cornelius farm.

The tiny green bulb will soon ripen into a bright red strawberry, ready to be trucked to the Tigard Area Farmers Market, which celebrates its 20th anniversary when it opens this Sunday.

Over the years, Unger has seen the market grow, change hands and move from location to location, hopping around the city as it searches for a permanent home.

This weekend the market is moving again — but this time, market planners hope, the move will be for good.

When the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce announced last year that it had taken over the popular market, it promised to move the event into the downtown area, increase its presence in the community and bring in more local businesses.

Not long after that, it announced it would be moving downtown with a new corporate sponsor, Burgerville, which will be selling burgers and fries at the market.

'Farmers market bug'

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Small unripe strawberries grow at Unger Farms in Cornelius. The berries should be ready later this month for harvest and will be sold at the Tigard Area Farmers Market, which opens this Sunday.The Ungers tackle 15 local farmers markets in Portland and Washington County each week between Mother's Day and Halloween, including Beaverton, Hillsboro and Tigard.

“I love the Tigard market,” Unger said. “The managers they’ve had, the community involvement they have, all the volunteers. It’s great.”

For years the berry growers sold their fruit to processing plants, which turned the strawberries and other berries into yogurts and other foods.

But in the late 1980s, the Ungers were asked to participate in the Hillsboro Farmers Market, which was looking to add a strawberry vendor.

“We went and immediately caught the ‘farmers market bug,’” Unger joked. “That first year was just so much fun. It’s great to actually get to see and talk to the people who are consuming your berries, unlike a processor where it all goes to a plant and you never really know what happens to them.”

The Ungers began to expand to more markets, adding Tigard a few years later.

The Tigard Area Farmers Market is different from other markets she sells at, Unger said, because its organizers make a point to listen to their vendors.

“They ask us what we want,” Unger said. “I think that’s why the vendors at the Tigard market are a closer-knit group rather than in Beaverton or Portland markets where you don’t know who is there.”

Because of that bond, vendors in Tigard tend to stay for years, Unger said.

“The customers at the market are always in such good moods and happy to be there,” she said. “As a business, it makes sense for us because we are getting retail prices versus the process price. But even if the dollars were closer, I’d still do it. It’s so much fun."

New location

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Unger Farms got started selling strawberries at farmers markets in the 1980s. The company also supplies berries to local fruit stands and New Seasons Market. For the past four years, the market has been located at Young’s Funeral Home on Pacific Highway. On Sunday, the market moves to Southwest Burnham Street and Hall Boulevard, taking over the Tigard Public Works headquarters.

It’s often hard to get people to visit a farmers market when it moves, but Tigard has never had that problem, Unger said.

“(Moving) normally kills a market, but because of that community, they follow them wherever they go,” she added.

As one of the few Oregon farmers growing strawberries, Unger said she couldn’t see her operation changing the way it does business.

“The general public we serve would revolt,” she said. “I’m not sure anyone would pick up that slack. For a while, there were only three strawberry vendors that had berries at markets — although now, you are starting to see a few more.”

While other vendors at the Tigard market will kick off the season this Sunday, the Ungers have to wait until their berries are ripe enough for harvest before taking them to market.

Strawberries should start to be ready by May 19, she said. Market-goers will start to see raspberries in June, with blueberries and blackberries in July.

The Tigard Area Farmers Market starts Sunday at the Tigard Public Works building, 8777 S.W. Burnham St.



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