It's been 95 years since the last sugar beet was processed at the old Utah and Idaho (U&I) Sugar Factory located on East Lincoln Avenue. Thanks to Sunnyside Transformation Yakima Valley, the area around the surviving U&I structure will soon be the focal point of renewed agricultural economic activity.
If all the plans, now underway, are completed in a timely fashion, a new Sunnyside Farmers Market and community garden will open at the sugar row location by June 1, according to Roberto Matus, spokesperson for the community action group.
Sunnyside Transformation has been meeting since December working on a way to create partnerships that use community resources to relieve the poverty of hunger, explained Matus. At first the group thought to just create areas where families could plant small gardens at the East Lincoln Avenue location. "But we soon found the ground there was not suitable for plants," explained Mary Werkhoven, a member of the group's gardening committee.
During this time, the committee was approached about the possibility of taking on the farmers market project by longtime community activist Bill Flower, who had managed the market for the past eight years.
"Mr. Flower told us he was ready to hand over the project to someone else," said Matus.
With both the community gardens and the farmers market on their table, Sunnyside Transformation decided it might as well make the market place very visible, "...giving people a reason to take the freeway exit and come into Sunnyside," said Werkhoven.
The new market location will have ample parking, room for craft vendors; serve as a venue for regular community events, such as the Sunnyside Pepper Festival held in September, as well as other events throughout the summer.
The group has so far designed a 120'x25' space at the location now owned by the Van de Graaf family, who are helping to get the project off the ground. The space will include a giant canopy to give vendors and shoppers shade during market hours. Beneath the canopy will be 10'x10' vendor booth spaces and nearby there will be the first six raised garden beds ready for community planting. Other amenities at the new location will be running water and electricity.
Werkhoven said in addition to the East Lincoln Avenue site, more community gardens are being planned on North 16th Street near the new Christian Reformed Church. The church is allowing Sunnyside Transformation three acres for the planting of a farmers market crop and another acre for community gardens, Werkhoven explained.
She said strawberries will be planted on the three-acre plot and will serve as one of the market's regular offerings. She said the gardens will be open for use by families living near the North 16th Street location. The strawberries will be harvested by area youth under the mentorship of area farmers.
"We are taking a long range look at this project," said Matus.
It is a multi-pronged venture designed to infuse the local economy by bringing tourists to Sunnyside and helping the hungry and at-risk youth in the community.
"We envision an agriculture venue and it may take one or two years for it to meet our vision," he said.
This won't all be done in the first year, noted Werkhoven. "It will be done in stages, building relationships with our neighbors and surrounding communities."