Meadowbrook farmers market

Meadowbrook farmers market

 
Traditionally, farmers markets in Seattle have belonged to one of two market associations: The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which runs the granddaddy U-District market and six others, and Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets, best known for the Ballard Farmers Market. This year, though, we’re seeing a change. At least four new markets have sprung up: Two are complete standalones, at least for now. Two others are backed by a city institution, Pike Place Market

What’s the reason for the change? There’s a bit of happenstance — backers of the Queen Anne farmers market, opening Thursday (June 18), organized an independent market when another group bowed out of the market that originated in 2006. Organizers of the Meadowbrook farmers market didn’t realize they might have the option of joining up with a coalition — and their goals are different enough that they might have gone out on their own regardless. But there’s general agreement that a big serving of city support for farmers markets this year, including grants to help kick-start some and a move to make processes like their street closures less complex and expensive,  made a big difference. ”We are so grateful to the city…” said James Haydu of Pike Place Market, which is spearheading new “Pike Place Express” markets at downtown’s City Hall Plaza and in South Lake Union. “They streamlined and helped decrease the cost of doing business for a neighborhood farmers market, which is a boon to everybody.” 

We’re always personally happy to see a new market, but a new USDA study questions whether farmers markets are growing at an unsustainable rate. Chris Curtis of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance is thinking that there are too many, saying in this post that she’d like to see Seattle study how many the city can support and where to put them. She also notes the growing national issue of “how do we get the ‘farmer’ back into farmers markets,” eliminating the crafts, kettle korn, massage therapists, etc. who are a staple of some. 

“We need more markets that are organized solely for the purpose of supporting local farmers,” Curtis wrote.  ”Many (markets) are organized because a neighborhood wants a revitalization event or a community wants a weekly food fair.  Those are great events, just don’t call them a “Farmers Market”. 

Meadowbrook farmers market

Meadowbrook farmers market

 

Here’s what’s new this year (and one extra: I learned today that there will also be an occasional summer South Park “Market On Wheels” with some great neighborhood vendors):

Queen Anne Farmers Market

Queen Anne, operating at a different location and under new independent management, calls itself the little market that could. It’s not even looking so little, though, with a full roster of quality farmers and producers, and a full schedule of market activities. The market opens at 3 p.m. Thursday; opening activities include a demo by Canlis chef Jason Franey at 4 p.m., and a book signing at 5 p.m. for Mathew Amster-Burton’s Hungry Monkey.      

Julie Whitehorn, chair of the steering committee, said that it didn’t feel like an option to let the neighborhood’s market die, or even skip a year, when it was clear the previous incarnation wouldn’t  survive.

“It was not simply for all the lofty reasons of saving farmland and increasing the local food supply and improving public health. It was for very selfish reasons,” she said. “We live in the neighborhood, we are raising kids here, some of us, we wanted it for our community. It’s a terrific community builder, it brings people out of their cars and homes and gets them to know each other.”

There were major challenges from the start: One was logistics, whether the association could even navigate the bureaucracy of getting a market going. Whitehorn had been volunteering for the association for two years, and was at nearly every market day for the previous Queen Anne market at its different location.

“I thought I knew a little bit,” she said, but “a lot of it was ignorance, blissful ignorance.” She got a break with “the midwife of this baby,” Karen Selander in the city’s Office of Economic Development. “Karen has shepherded this entire process for us, letting us know what we needed when, what was required, and doing it so cheerfully” despite the overwhelming process.

Another question was whether vendors would be scared away by the prospect of new, untried management. Some may have been, Whitehorn said, but others, including mainstays such as Full Circle Farm, more than filled in the gaps. A lot of familiar faces have returned from last year, and new ones have joined in. At this point, there’s even a waiting list. (Here’s the list of vendors, such as Dog Mountain Farm,  Local Roots, Crown S Ranch, and (starting 6/25) Billy Allstot’s famous tomatoes and pastas and sauces from Sorrentino’s. Skillet and Patty Pan will be there with hot food on opening day.)

Another serious roadblock was money. The market association had to raise enough to pay an onsite manager, cover startup costs, and even handle miscellany like a $500 canopy — a challenge even with a city startup grant. The group has raised about $8,500 to date, close to its goal of $10,000.

“The thing about the farmers market that has blown me away is the interest at all levels. We have someone giving us $1,000, and we have checks coming in for $10,” Whitehorn said.

 ”That’s the power of food.”     

“Pike Place Express”

Pike Place Market will run “express” markets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays at City Hall Plaza, starting June 23, and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays on Pontius Avenue North in South Lake Union, starting June 25. It’s a new move for the city institution, but Pike Place’s James Haydu says it’s a logical one. “We’ve been here 102 years. The first thing that our charter says is that we are a venue by which farmers can sell their produce. And the way things have evolved in the last 10-15 years, with the absolutely unbelievable growth of farmers markets in neighborhoods around Seattle and the state and country…we’re simply moving with the times.”

Pike Place was approached by the city and by South Lake Union organizers, and decided to take on the two nearby locations. He sees the “express” markets as symbiotic: People who work in the downtown core aren’t particularly likely to walk to Pike Place regularly to buy produce during their lunch hour, he said, and “the idea is, we’ll take Pike Place to them. We think it is just far enough (from the market), it may be a convenience to people.” Once they’re introduced to the vendors and products, he hopes they’ll then seek out the main market on other days of the week.

Logistically, it will be a challenge — unloading trucks on Fourth Avenue after the bus lane restrictions end at 9 a.m., for instance, or figuring out how to park in the high-priced downtown core (Pike Place is trying to work with a neighboring lot to keep prices manageable). Of course, Haydu noted, unloading at Pike Place itself is good practice for a downtown challenge.The City Hall market is entirely Pike Place vendors, while the Cascade market is about 85 percent, he said. The Cascade community hopes to have that market grow into “more of a traditional neighborhood market,” including crafts.

I asked Haydu about the idea of saturating the — so to speak — market for markets. His thought is that as long as there are farmers on waiting lists, it’s hard to say there’s not room to expand — and downtown, he thinks, did have room.”The reaction from vendors was pretty overwhelming that another downtown venue would be great. Farmers are pretty savvy businesspeople for the most part, and they realize there’s a concentration of, say, 15,000 people who work in that immediate area who will traipse over there for lunch.”

Meadowbrook Farmers Market

I wondered, when I first saw the vendor list for this little market at the Seattle Waldorf School, how such a hidden little startup attracted the marvelous Poco Carretto gelato cart. Checking the market out last week, we found the family connection — Poco (and Cafe Juanita) owner Holly Smith is a mom at the school, giving them something of an in. The market is such a sweet addition to the neighborhood, though, it would have merited the cart regardless.

 

Meadowbrook farmers market

Meadowbrook farmers market

 

I talked with Tim Love, who is the gardening teacher at the school and the market master, and found that the market’s goal is education — vendors must be willing to participate in that goal somehow, whether leading demonstrations at the market, hosting students at their farm, or other means. Student gardeners aren’t directly involved with the buying and selling this year, but could be in the future. (A non-profit organization runs the market, separate from the school, but it certainly helps to have the connection for a reliable site and a link to the classroom.)

Love hopes the market can serve as a model for other schools starting up markets, and I hope he succeeds. Meadowbrook had an unusually close, community feel to me, with kids taking full advantage of the playground equipment, friends socializing, families walking in from neighboring streets. (The market is small — but it didn’t seem too small to me, and I was surprised to see comments criticizing some of the very things I enjoyed about it.  Devra Gartenstein, whose Patty Pan Grill is a vendor there and at many other markets, has a good perspective here.)

As I said, it looked lovely to me:

Meadowbrook farmers market
Meadowbrook farmers market
Meadowbrook farmers market
Meadowbrook farmers market
Meadowbrook farmers market
Childrens garden at Meadowbrook farmers market
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