Vancouver Farmers’ Market gets a new crop of vendors with program launch

Aphena Arshisha was one of the finest waiters in Clark County. But now she is living her destiny: selling jewelry and crystals to help women in the community.

A new generation of Vancouver entrepreneurs, including locals like Arshisha, Dakima Maria and Andrea Ulshafer, have set up a new program that allows small business owners in Clark County to sell their products for free at the Vancouver Farmers Market.

The Vancouver Farmers Market and Mercy Corps Northwest have partnered this year to deliver the Market Assistance Program. The City of Vancouver and the County of Clark also support it.

Visitors to the weekend markets will see a rotating series of locally made goods offered to the public, such as jewelry and clothing. Sellers’ goals are far more important than making money.

Aphena Archisha

Arshisha started her business, All the Wishes, a year ago with the help of her father’s wife, who had been selling jewelry and crystals for decades. For Arshisha, she saw it as her birthright. This summer, she brought All the Wishes to the Vancouver Farmers Market with the help of the Market Assistance Program.

While jewelry and crystals may be the product, Arshisha sees herself as granting wishes to underprivileged women in the community. She uses part of the profits and collects donations to help women who might need help paying an electricity bill, buying Christmas presents or helping women in situations of domestic violence.

“Right now we are granting small wishes,” Arshisha said. “But as we grow, I want our wishes to grow as well.”

To be eligible for the program, small business owners must earn less than 80% of the local median income. The business must also be physically located within the county and have local or handmade products.

Mercy Corps has had tent space each weekend of the market season, providing space for up to two businesses each weekend. The booth tent, table and chairs are all provided by Mercy Corps.

“Our goal was to support small businesses new to agricultural markets by eliminating risk and helping them navigate the backend,” said Hannah Cotter, Southern Washington Program Manager at Mercy Corps Northwest.

Whether markets will work well for businesses is not always known. The market assistance program gives owners a way to test the markets for their business without having to commit to an entire season, Cotter added.

So far, the markets seem to be working for the candidates, with companies typically generating over $1,000 in revenue each weekend they’re there.

Dakima Maria

Dakima Maria already runs her own business, Dakima Maria Makeover Studio. But in 2019, she rekindled her love for fashion design and took part in Portland Fashion Week. She had started designing clothes in 2004, and by 2006 her clothes were being sold in several stores. But with five kids in tow, she needed a break.

Maria has designed affordable but also quality clothes to sell through the market assistance program. She liked to see the clothes she drew on dress forms adapt to people shopping at the market.

“And it looks good on them,” Maria said.

There are not many fashion designers out there.

“It was completely different but very well received,” Maria said, adding how much she loves seeing people walk into her booth and being lifted by her clothes.

Companies in the program benefit from at least two weekends at the market. Some businesses, such as those selling prepared foods, will take longer to manage permits and insurance. Not all of the companies have gone to market yet, and those are slated for later this summer.

“We recognized that many small business owners face barriers to market entry,” said Stephanie Clark, Partnerships and Programs Manager at Vancouver Farmers Market.

When a business wants to sell its products at the market, it has start-up costs: a tent, a table, a chair, seasonal booth fees and any equipment it needs for the market. This doesn’t even include the costs involved in making the product: studio space for those making goods, commercial space for those making prepared foods, land for those growing produce or growing livestock. And then there is the transportation needed to get the goods to market.

“Historically, marginalized communities don’t have access to resources like these,” Clark said.

Arshisha, a Vancouver native and mother of seven, sees her time at the market as a chance to encourage and teach her children to become entrepreneurs and run their own business one day in the future.

Arshisha once had a stall at Vancouver’s East Market, but this is her first market season at the Downtown Market.

“It’s magic,” she said. “We’ve met so many amazing people from the community.”

The aid program gave her the opportunity to try out a new audience and make more sales at the downtown market.

Andrea Ulshafer

Andrea Ulshafer launched Sew La Tea Do in May this year. She started sewing at the age of 7 but really leaned into the craft during the pandemic. With a baby and eventually a toddler, she cherished the time for herself and was able to make clothes for herself, her son, and her husband. But soon enough, she discovered that her family simply didn’t need the clothes anymore. So she started making clothes to sell and Sew La Tea Do was born.

She sells children’s and adult clothes, but mainly sells children’s clothes at the market, taking custom orders for adults.

Ulshafer has a job as a piano teacher, so his business was not meant to provide an income for his family. Instead, she wanted to pay for her hobby. Then came his involvement in the Market Aid Program.

“It’s been great,” Ulshafer said. “It was invigorating and so exciting to see that people loved my items and were excited to wear them.”

During the two weekends she worked at the market, she served over 30 customers. She sold more than enough to pay for her hobby. Ulshafer hopes to grow the business by potentially having a stall at the market next year and working more on her website to sell her clothes there.

Applications for the program are always welcome. Visit https://nw.mercycorps.org/MAP to learn more.

James V. Payne