The Molalla Farmers Market is, in many ways, your typical farmers market, boasting a wide array of local produce, dairy products, crafts, decor and other handmade goods. But look a little closer, and you’ll notice at least a few of the vendors are on the young side.
Take Lillian Valov, age 9, who on Thursday was selling her unique wood fabrications — including pencil-shaped pen holders and tic-tac-toe table games — under her own brand, L.V. Creations.
Lillian is one of some two dozen youngsters to participate in and complete the market’s new Young Entrepreneurs program this year.
The brainchild of market organizers Tom and Marian Sawtell, the program offered kids 6 to 16 a bit of seed money (and gift cards to the local Ace Hardware) and a couple of free weeks of vendor space to get a taste of running their own small business.
Many of the kids, like Lillian, have — in the words of Tom Sawtell — “flat knocked it out of the park.”
Lillian learned her trade — not from her dad, as many assume — but from her mother, Carolyne, a woodworker by hobby.
“I enjoy the woodshop,” Carolyne said with a laugh. “Lillian just kind of took an interest. She’s my little crafter and always wanted to be in there. She’s very hands-on, and she’s mature for her age. You should see how she flies with the nail gun now.”
Asked if she finds the saws, drills and presses intimidating, Lillian shakes her head.
“When you know all the rules and how to keep yourself safe, it’s a lot less scary,” she explained.
Sawtell said the program has helped teach the Young Entrepreneurs important skills like pricing, marketing, salesmanship and connecting with customers.
“It teaches these kids responsibility: how to take something and make it their own and how to talk with people eye-to-eye,” he said.
It has also made them some real money. Lillian made more than $400 over the course of the market — enough to buy her own dog, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix she named Tonka.
“She emptied out her account and then went back to work so she can buy it toys,” Carolyne said. “Puppy insurance is what she’s working toward right now.”
Andrea Wolfer, age 10, has made about $500 this summer and is now a full-time vendor at the Molalla Farmers Market. Her homemade breads — for which she grinds the wheat herself — and, in particular, her jalapeno cheese loaf are some of the market’s best sellers.
Her brothers Kendall, 16, and Justin, 12, are also vendors, selling homegrown herbs and baked goods, respectively. Justin wakes up at 6 a.m. on market days to bake dozens of gooey cinnamon rolls and lemon bars.
They learned it all from their mother, Marla, who insists that they pay for their own ingredients for what they bring to market — and to pay her if they need her help in the kitchen.
“I bake all of our bread for the family; it’s weird for me to buy it,” Marla explained. “And it was my mom who taught me. So I’m just passing it on.”
The Wolfers are saving their earnings, and while Justin is undecided, Andrea has a pretty good idea of what she’ll spend it on one day.
“I’m saving up to buy a car someday when I’m old enough,” she said. “I want to get a Volkswagen Beetle.”
Each of the young entrepreneurs who completed the program was honored at Thursday’s market, being recognized by Sawtell and Molalla Mayor Scott Keyser.
Originally conceived as a surrogate for the popular Power of Produce (POP) Club, which offered kids a series of activities and unique ways to engage with local farmers and producers, the Molalla Young Entrepreneurs program has taken on a life of its own and is now being emulated in other communities.
Sawtell said the Oregon State University Extension has sent representatives to get a closer look at the program, and farmers market directors in other cities and even other states have called him for tips on setting up similar initiatives.
“It’s been a great program,” he said. “It works. And I think we’re going to do it again next year.”
The Molalla Farmers Market will be open one more week, from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Hoffman House Antique Mall, 523 East Main Street. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
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