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Farmer’s Market readies for 2014 season
The Mercer Island Farmers Market will open its seventh season on June 8, bringing with it a number of new vendors, workshops and programming. On Sunday, to celebrate the Island tradition, organizers hosted a dinner fundraiser at Aljoya, with a menu inspired by some of this year’s featured produce and speakers ranging from Kurt Dammeier, founder of Beecher’s cheese to restaurant chef Thierry Rautureau of Chef in the Hat.
“Like every year, we’re working hard to find new farmers, new products and new produce,” said Nannette Bassett, one of the organizers.
One such vendor is Cascadian Edibles, which sells small flats of starter plants to keep around the house. Heaven Scent Lavender, JesseKelly Glass and Ever Bloomin Flowers are tentatively planned as well.
Also new this year, is a shift away from the markets traditionally produce-only vendors. In the early weeks of June, when the market selection is limited to berries as farmers ready the rest of their summer produce, market organizers will introduce several garden artists.
“Basically we’re trading that spot with the berry vendors,” explains Bassett, “and bringing something that’s still in line with the Farmers Market.”
Though a full-list is still being assembled, confirmed are Cascadian Edibles and a lavender farmer who also makes soaps and other body products out of the essential oils. In the fall, as has been the case in the past, vendors will again include several local artists, Bassett hopes to time with the holiday season.
“Those are the only market days that will bend a little bit. Technically we’re still produce only,” she says. “Local Washington is such a great source of food and I’m not sure we want the market [to become] anything else, which may limit us at some point in the future. A new board coming in may want to switch the application process. But at this point in time, for the next few years, we want to focus on the agricultural industry.”
Bassett says just as the market has brought an element of community to the Island, so has it changed farmers’ habits. She’s noticed several partnerships that have grown out of vendors working side-by-side. Realizing the demand for their produce, a number of farmers have combined operations to maximize their growing potential.
Farmers, who may have only a couple of acres, may share or swap space with a neighbor: “They’re working together [to make] more cucumbers or more lettuce…They’re joining forces, which is really nice to see.”
And market organizers are similarly combining forces. Early in the markets’ history, some small Island business owners were wary the influx of new vendors would hurt the local economy. The market and Terry Moreman of the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce, began brainstorming ways to bring those businesses into the fold. This year, they will debut a new program that encourages residents to explore their city. The Chamber is putting together a booklet that lists businesses and service providers. Market-goers are then asked to visit at least ten over the course of the farmers market season, for a chance to be entered in a raffle and other prizes. Residents may also receive a small token for each individual visit.
“We think it will be very successful. [We’re creating] this treasure hunt. We want people to hang onto the book and visit these businesses,” says Bassett.
Last year, the market was awarded Business of the Year by the Chamber. That symbiotic relationship doesn’t end there. The market will also be hosting three interns, a program started last year, but expanded this season. Students from Bellevue College and MIHS will help with social media and conduct a price comparison with agricultural businesses in the region.
For more about the Farmers Market, visit mifarmersmarket.org.
The 2014 season
This year’s summer market will operate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, June 8 through October 12. Among the many attractions are:
Beer, wine and cider samplings from select local vendors;
Food sampling, recipes and workshops to promote healthy eating, sponsored by a grant from the Mercer Island Community Fund;
A full schedule of music, featuring new artists each week.