Entries tagged with “Farmers Markets”.

“Goat meat can get you in at any farmers market.”

That’s just one of the interesting tidbits of information in a generally comprehensive and frank new study on farmers markets in King County. Staff from the county Agriculture Program surveyed market managers and farmers for the report, yielding a nice trove of data on the challenges markets face and some paths toward improving their long-term stability. Some of the summaries and conclusions will be no-brainers to dedicated market watchers: Farmers markets need good, long-term locations, which are in short supply. Having more vendors process debit cards and food stamp benefits would increase sales. It’s frustrating that so many shoppers believe prices are higher at farmers markets than grocery stores, and frustrating that grocery stores are now grabbing the “locally grown” label while selling a very different product. Still, the report has plenty of new information and plain-spoken advice for the future. Here’s a random sampling of points that caught my eye:

1. There were 39 farmers markets in the county last year. Ten years earlier, there had been just nine. The markets are clearly boons to communities, but they’ve grown so fast there hasn’t been time to research what makes for successful markets in different areas — or time to develop regulations and land use politicies to support them. The growth also is causing concern among some market managers that newer markets are pulling shoppers away from established markets, and some farmers are reporting that their per-market sales are dropping.”If the number of farmers markets is to continue to grow successfully, it will have to be matched with increasing the shopper base and increasing the number of farmers available to sell at them” — and there are plenty of roadblocks to both those goals.

2. Most farmers need to earn a minimum of $600 per market day. “Information from a number of county markets indicates their average vendor sales are less than $600.”

3. As more markets open or expand, it becomes harder for market managers to know all farmers personally. “Some markets have discovered vendors who claim to grow the crop they are selling, but in fact are buying it from a packing house or other farmer. Besides not complying with the market’s policies, these vendors tend to underprice the legitimate farmers at the market, who may decide to leave the market. It is extremely difficult for market managers to verify the accuracy of vendor claims…Farmers understand this is a difficult and sensitive issue and wish market managers had better tools to address it.

4. Long-time farmers with “a recognized product and an established presence” can pretty much choose the markets where they want to set up shop. New farmers find it harder to gain a spot, especially at more desirable markets with higher sales. Some immigrant farmers have a hard time getting into markets “because they tend to grow the same products which are overrepresented at many markets.” But farmers who have a specialized product in high demand can pick their market regardless of how long they’ve been in the business or how big their farm is. “As one farmer noted in a small group discussion, ‘Goat meat can get you in at any farmers market.”

Interested in seeing more? Take a look at the full study here.

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One of the first and best resources for eating local in the Northwest was Seasonal Cornucopia, chef Becky Selengut’s well-researched compendium of when local foods are in season. Most of us know when to expect fresh asparagus — and the site does include growing seasons for all the common fruits and vegetables — but for lingonberries, watercress, matsutakes, even sea cucumbers and sanddabs, it was the only place most of us had to turn.

I don’t mean to speak in the past tense, because Seasonal Cornucopia is actually entering a new era. Selengut just passed it on to John and Patricia Eddy of Cook Local, whose recipes and locavore resources were a logical match for her comprehensive database of fruits, vegetables, foraged goods, seafood, and more. They’ll be linking seasonal search results with Cook Local recipes, so that when visitors ask, say, when to expect apriums at the farmers market, they’ll also get some idea what to do with them. They’re excited about maintaining and even enhancing the site, “both regionally and technologically,” Patricia told me in an e-mail. (Cook Local already has a Bay Area branch site, which seems to me a logical spot for expansion.)

“It has always been our ultimate goal to connect our readers with the food that they eat and the farmers who grow that food,” Patricia wrote. “We had dreams of creating our own database, not necessarily to tell people when things were in season (since obviously SC did that very well), but to tell people where they could find everything. I wanted to have a database that told people that quinces were available from Mair-Taki at the U-District and Columbia City Farmers Markets in mid-October, or that if you wanted to make your own beef stock, you needed to talk to Eiko of Skagit River Ranch or Brent and Ang from Olsen Farms.”

Becky told me in an e-mail that she thought of Cook Local as “the perfect sister site to SC, in that it provided all the things that SC didn’t, up to date farmer’s market info, CSA stuff, and recipes. I respect their commitment to our local food and providers.” She thinks they’ll be able to bring the site to a more useful level, with photos, recipes, maybe even an iPhone application — all things she wanted, but couldn’t afford the time to do.  Selengut “sold” the site for $10 (and, if it were to make money, a percentage of revenue), but she’ll stay involved to advise and help the Eddys if they want or need it. And she says she’s thrilled to see it going strong.

 ”It was my baby and now it’s growin’ up and off to bigger and better things with my 100% support.”

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Farmers markets have been rising in popularity for years, but they still mainly appeal to hardcore customers. A vast potential audience of “second-tier” shoppers claims in surveys to want locally-grown foods, but fears it will be too expensive, too inconvenient, or otherwise too complicated to shop at a farmers market. 

Now the non-profit Cascade Harvest Coalition is launching an interesting research project with the help of a state grant, working with Good Food Strategies to “address and overcome the triggers that are putting a ceiling on the kinds and numbers of consumers who look for and buy locally grown foods.” Three markets statewide - Phinney, Anacortes, and Shelton — are participating, and each one gets $4,500 for promotions to draw new customers in. At Phinney, you’ll see the results over the next two weeks in the form of $2 “Fresh Bucks” coupons available at various Phinney and Greenwood businesses. (more…)

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I’ll be at the University District Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to noon today, Aug. 8, for the “Chef In Residence” (or, in this case, “Writer In Residence”) program. Please, come say hello. We can talk about potatoes, tomatoes, Canvolutions, or whatever you like in that place where words and dinner plans collide.

I just finished cooking a triple-batch of this corn-basil-orzo salad from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Herbal Kitchen. I’ll bring a batch along for samples and inspiration. And if you get there before 10, you can probably find me at Foraged and Found, which will have huckleberries for the early birds.

Here’s the rest of this season’s “Chef In Residence” roster: (more…)

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Pies By Jenny always flew under the radar, so it’s fitting that my first news of them came through word of mouth. An acquaintance had seen Hsiao-Ching Chou buying a stunning looking huckleberry pie at the University District Farmers Market, made with two pounds of wild berries from Foraged and Found. If someone with Hsiao-Ching’s taste and savvy was investing $35 on a king-size pie, my friend said, she figured it might actually be worth it. 

When I checked it out myself, I was too late for huckleberries, but found the most amazing deep-dish apple pie, made with 21 layers of heirloom Pirus apples from Wade at Rockridge Orchards, under an impeccably flaky crust. Jenny Christensen made smaller and less pricey pies as well, savory as well as sweet, buying up ingredients from her fellow market vendors to make poetry on a plate. 

You probably know where this is going. (more…)

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The “Chef in Residence” program kicks off Saturday (June 27) at the University District Farmers Market with an appearance by the fine folks at Canlis — chef Jason Franey, and managing owners Mark and Brian Canlis. I’m a big fan of this summer market feature, where chefs and food aficionados hang out from 10 a.m. to noon in a designated booth, answering a steady stream of questions from shoppers wondering what to cook with the fresh ingredients of the week. Yours truly (that would be me) will be on the hot seat on Aug. 8, and I hope you’ll visit. As I told the organizers, I may not be able to provide novel recipes for every ingredient, but I’ll do my best — and heck, I can at least help you write about what you cook. 

The market is located at Northeast 50th and University Avenue NE. Here’s the full schedule: (more…)

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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):

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The number of farmers markets in the U.S. is growing fast, but sales aren’t keeping pace with that growth, according to a new study from the U.S.D.A.

Nearly 30 percent of all seasonal markets in the U.S. are less than five years old, and “most still appear to be establishing themselves economically,” with fewer vendors, fewer customers, and monthly sales that total only half the national average. The disparity raises questions “as to whether current levels of industry growth can be sustained over time,” the study said.

The study is based on data collected in 2006, focusing on the 2005 season. In farmers market years, that already feels like a long way back — I’d be curious to see more up-to-date data. Certainly, in our area, the number of markets has risen sharply even since 2005.

Coincidentally, I had been talking with Chris Curtis of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance for an unrelated story I’m doing on the city’s new 2009 farmers markets (watch for that next week), and she suggested that the saturation point, at some level, is here.

“Some markets cannibalize each other.  They need to be sited so that they serve a specific population, which isn’t easy.  I’d love to see Seattle do what Portland has done – which is a city funded study of farmers markets; how many can the city support, where should they be sited; what food dollars can realistically go through a farmers market, how many farmers need to be involved, etc.,” she wrote.


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Yes, yes, you could be voting on America’s best bathroom, but why not take the time instead to cast your ballot for America’s best farmers market? The non-profit American Farmland Trust has a contest going here for the title of the country’s best small, medium, and large markets. Caveat: The site is clunky to navigate and seems woefully incomplete — market managers must sign themselves up to be included, and few have so far — but voting is open through Aug. 8, which gives them (cough — U District! Ballard! Edmonds! Bellingham! Manzanita!) time to get involved.

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ballard1  Hot Cakes, home of the hopelessly craveable molten-chocolate cake-in-a-jar, has left the Ballard Farmers Market.  Chocolatier Autumn Martin of Theo Chocolate wrote on her blog that “as rewarding as the market days were,” Sundays marked her seventh straight day of work for the week, and it was too much.

Wait. No need to panic yet.

Martin’s chocolate “Ari-Cole” cakes are now available at two sites in Seattle week-round, at Theo Chocolate in Fremont and at Picnic on Phinney Ridge (as if you needed another reason to visit). I have a call in to Martin to see if other outlets are in the works. If you’re looking for a special order for events, e-mail Martin through her site. And now, if she’ll only consider bringing back the financiers…

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