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How 'The Farm Chicks' Helped Create a Culture Around Upcycling and Vintage Wares

Farm Chicks Fair

Photo Credit: The Farm Chicks

It started 19 years ago as a small charity fundraiser in a friend’s barn on the eastern Washington prairie when Serena Thompson gathered friends for a rummage sale. Her husband’s coworker, a volunteer firefighter, had been diagnosed with cancer, and this was Thompson’s modest way of raising money to help with the bills. With her own hobby in thrifting and donations of clothing and knickknacks that she solicited from friends, she expected it to be a tiny, one-time affair.

Instead, it grew into a national movement as The Farm Chicks, one of the largest and oldest vintage and handmade fairs in the nation. Now in its 19th year, it’s expected to draw tens of thousands of attendees in late August to the Spokane, Washington, fairgrounds who will browse wares from more than 200 vendors selling items ranging from mid-century kitchenware and salvaged industrial pieces to paintings and vintage clothes.


The event is so popular that blogs and magazines often dub it “the happiest antiques show on Earth.” With TV shows, Facebook groups, mobile phone apps and hundreds of antique events of all kinds that now regularly take place in the U.S., that’s a hard superlative to come by. The used-furniture business alone is expected to hit more than $16 billion in sales in the next four years, according to industry analysts.

But when The Farm Chicks started in 2001 under Thompson, who was raised by itinerant parents who lived and traveled in a van and instilled a do-it-yourself ethos in their daughter, the idea of large-scale resale markets was much more nascent, aside from the antique shops of small-town main streets. Today, Thompson, who largely runs the operation by herself and plans each year for it out of her farmhouse in the farm-heavy Green Bluff area of Spokane County, is also a book author, blogger, and contributor to magazines including Country Living.

We're really about supporting and creating a space for creatives, who happen to mostly be women in this case, to express themselves in a positive, supportive environment.


“The fair is just the tip of the iceberg of what goes on all year,” says Thompson, who wrote The Farm Chicks Christmas: Merry Ideas for the Holidays and The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen: Live Well, Laugh Often, Cook Much. “We're really about supporting and creating a space for creatives, who happen to mostly be women in this case, to express themselves in a positive, supportive environment.”


This year, she expects at least 300 people to participate as sellers at the fair, which takes place on August 21 and 22.

“These days, we get visitors from across the country and even some international ones. I’m excited to see who comes by after the pandemic year where we didn’t run an in-person fair,” she says.

Thompson, whose parents traveled in their van throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Canada before settling in a cabin in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, was in many ways raised to be a thrifter and creative.

“I spent my childhood days searching for arrowheads, teaching myself to sew on a treadle sewing machine, and to bake in a wood-burning stove, with no running water, refrigeration, or electricity in our home,” Thompson says. “My family lived frugally, and early on, inspired by my parents’ thriftiness and style, I gained a knack for thrifty creativity and turning ordinary objects into something useful. And I dreamed of the home I would create for my own family someday.”

Thompson cautions that one’s home doesn’t need to become anything akin to a segment on the reality show Hoarders and that thrifting doesn’t mean packing one’s home full of one’s finds with no care for style and space.


Now a mother of four, Thompson said she’s learned and is teaching her kids that the benefits of thrifting go beyond creative expression and saving on costs — it’s also better for the earth.

“Why buy new when there are so many gems out there that are used?” she says.

Thompson cautions that one’s home doesn’t need to become anything akin to a segment on the reality show Hoarders and that thrifting doesn’t mean packing one’s home full of one’s finds with no care for style and space.

“When anybody in the vintage world comes to visit me, they are shocked that I don't have a ton of stuff,” she says. “I love vintage and there is lots of vintage in my home.” One of her favorite items is a century-old plate she picked up in Japan during a trip with her husband. It’s small but big in its sentimental value, like many of the pieces she collects.

“That’s part of what I encourage if people ask for my advice,” Thompson says. “You can do what inspires you and represents your life and style, and do it in a selective way.”


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