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Yesterday’s Ballard market was a bust. Maybe planetary alignment was off, and maybe it was my attitude. Either way, the only things on hand at high noon were potatoes, sunchokes, apples, beets, and green leeks. And $10 salad mix. I couldn’t get inspired. Not even a carrot in sight, plus Stokesberry was flat out of chicken, whole or otherwise. (The nice lady from Stokesberry said that anyone can preorder by email; you pick up at any of the Saturday or Sunday Seattle farmers markets.)
So what else to do but come home and turn soil in the backyard beds. Time to take matters into my own hands.
Nothing doing at the farmers market this weekend. A clue would have been the weather forecast, which called for snow and sub-freezing temps. The best findings were root crops from storage and a smattering of greens; one optimistic farmer was offering an early spring salad mix. I managed to get my color fix nevertheless — with deep purple cabbages, bright orange carrots, the last of the Brussels sprouts from Pierce County. But alas, it’s still winter here in our kitchen.
After weeks of travel, record snow accumulation, and a work schedule that went straight through Christmas, I’m cooking with ingredients from faraway places these days. So I was really happy to finally get back to the farmers market, even though there wasn’t a vegetable in sight, and even if the thing we don’t need right now is more frozen meat. Still, I picked up some nice-looking apples from Tonnemaker — they haven’t gone mealy, not yet — plus a broiler hen from Stokesberry Farm in Olympia. At Stokesberry, the chickens rotate pastures with Thurston county cows, just like Joel Salatin does at Polyface Farm in Virginia, as you may recall from Omnivore’s Dilemma, a.k.a. the Bible.
Today’s offerings also included pork, lamb, veal stock from Seabreeze Farm, salmon, oysters, cheeses, pickles, jams, handmade pasta, and cider. And we had a nice chat with Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs, who handed us crackers smeared thickly with pork rillettes, made from the fat of his Mangalitsa piggies. Totally decadent stuff, and if I’d been smarter on my feet I would have snagged some for a super simple and tasty appetizer.
Word is that the farmers market was open this weekend despite icy roads and a big time blizzard. My friend Alice, who picked up apples, parsnips, rapini, cabbage, prunes, squash, and eggs, reported that the vegetables were frozen but that farmers were out in force. Proving once again how much farmers rock.
The big story this weekend was flooding on local farms, brought on by last week’s heavy rains. At the Broadway market both Full Circle Farms and Local Roots reported being affected, and a note scribbled on the market chalkboard indicated that Alm Hill was done for the year. Farmer Siri at Local Roots said that they’d picked everything they could before evacuating on Thursday. She managed a cheerful face and added, “All it means is that we’ll be back in spring.”
But it’s hard to believe that floods on farms are ever inconsequential, in spite of how routinely they seem to occur. I’ll never forget visiting Growing Things Farm in Carnation after a devastating storm two years ago left the farmers homeless, their fields ruined, and the livestock without shelter. We spent a day helping the family break down irrigation tubing and poly tunnels and frame a new flood-safe cabin. It was cold and miserable, but even then it was hard to really understand just what these folks go through just to put fresh, healthy food on our tables.
All the good news today was on the consumer side. There were some really wonderful things out like pretty bundles of leeks from the Hmong farmers at the northmost end of the market, dried garbanzo and kidney beans from Alvarez, lovely Napa cabbage from Local Roots, Romanesco broccoli from Willie Green’s. And lest anybody question the season, there were big fat squashes everywhere. November is definitely here.
These lovely pics, snapped by my friend Julianna at yesterday’s Broadway market, pretty well tell the story. Tomatoes, corn and eggplant have been relegated to sideshow status and cold season crops have taken over. The variety right now is excellent — we’re talking broccoli, collards, leeks, lettuces, pumpkins, root crops, plus apples and a selection of pears. But stone fruits and berries seem to be gone for the year. Time to start storing those acorns.
It’s prime eating from the farmers markets right now. The selection this weekend was out of hand — truckloads of tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers — and some of the stuff was a downright bargain, like organic sweet corn at two for a buck. The Madrona market on Friday featured several vendors with plump blueberries, blackberries, plums, and peaches; a few carried fall’s first apples. And there were other signs of the changing seasons, like carrots and beets parked alongside dark green bundles of dinosaur kale. It feels so early for kale! But the Madrona market is now shut down for winter and most other markets close shop in the next two months. Just when life seemed so good.
On offer at the farmers market today was pretty much every kind of vegetable that’s grown in Washington state, plus stuff like okra that isn’t quite native. Most of the farmers were selling cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, and I felt a secret thrill upon discovering Alvarez with a big spread of organic peppers. There were baby poblanos and adult Anaheims, and a number of varieties I didn’t recognize. “What do you have that’s hot?” I said. The farmer pointed me to a box of creamy skinned, squat peppers and smiled as I carefully picked out a few.
Yesterday was hot and sunny and I could smell the ripe strawberries as I walked towards the Madrona farmers market. Man, it smelled good. About ten paces into the joint I spotted my favorite celebrity runner, vegan guru Scott Jurek, clad in a sleeveless biking jersey and sporting a chic new haircut. Alvarez was back with black beans, Scott reported happily, and he’d scored two kinds of cherries plus a big bag of pink lady apples, which were going for $2/pound at Lyall Farms of Mattawa, Wash. And he reminded me how much he loves Local Roots’ produce.
The Madrona market, at Martin Luther King and Union, started just last year but word has definitely gotten out; the place was packed. Amazingly, it’s one of three that we can access pretty easily on foot or by bike, if I could just get up the gumption to ride again after my recent spill. Anyway, in my wanderings I noted peas, carrots, bunched onions, even summer squash, alongside the obligatory squash blossoms. No way would I pay for squash, I thought, not after we could hardly give it away last summer. Still, how good was it to know I no longer had to eat every vegetable on offer, just to get some variety?
So life was good and the shopping was easy. I snapped up broccoli and bok choy and Alvarez’s last bunch of basil, my favorite harbinger of summer, and inhaled the intoxicating scent all the way home. Soon I’ll be restraining myself from buying every good thing that’s in season.
This morning Charlie went out on a 36-mile run in the Cascade foothills. Sometimes I run a bit with him but today I was happy just to meet him halfway, refill his water bottle, and relieve him of the muddy dogs. Conveniently, there’s a farmer’s market not far from the trailhead where I caught up with him.
And, well — the ambiance at this farmer’s market, in Issaquah, isn’t what you find in the city. There’s a jumbo Costco across the street. Vendors were selling homemade onesies, Kettle Korn, pansies in colorful pots. At the fringe of the market though were some actual farmer stalls, and these were the real deal. There were Asian families selling peony stems and lilies and and lettuces. There were folks from east of the mountains with peas and asparagus, both of ‘em going for $2 a pound. There were leafy greens, pea shoots, baby turnips, rhubarb, knobby garlic stems, and spring onions. The scarlet-hued cherries looked a week away from ripe.
The verdict? This market’s good to know about should you find yourself in the neighborhood.