Farmers markets are popping up like Starbucks all over the country. This phenomenon reflects a happy union of small-scale farmers willing to grow and urban populations eager to eat fresh produce. Across the Inland Northwest, our farmers markets are opening back up for the new season.
In North Idaho, we don’t think it’s a here-today-gone-tomorrow fad. We’re proud that our Kootenai County Farmers Market is beginning its 25th season.
Over the years, the managing board of producers has hammered out a workable system of tough rules with reasonable exemptions. Despite the diverse and independent nature of the players, the market hums like a beehive.
The market’s mission is simple and straight-forward — to foster local, family-owned farming and arts and crafts.
The word “local” is huge. “Locally grown” or “locally made” mean that nothing’s been over-packaged and trucked in from thousands of miles away.
And that’s the first rule of the market: Food and plants must be grown locally and sold by the producer.
Crafts must be made and sold locally by the artisan. If you have a booth, it is not enough to supply the goods — you have to be there on market day to sell them.
That’s the personal human touch of the market.
In our modern world, no connection exists between the ready-made clothes we buy and the child who pushes the cloth through the sewing machine somewhere across the planet. The farmers market reverses that anonymity. The producer deals directly with the buyer. The buyer gets to know, and becomes friends with — you’ve got it — the producer.
And the power of local applies to that attractive, pine-filled corner at Prairie Avenue and Highway 95 in Hayden. Thanks to local property owners Steve and Judy Meyer, we have a beautiful home for the market.
If you draw a 100-mile radius around that spot, you’ve outlined the market’s idea of “local.” They only sell goods from within that radius.
And that’s exactly how “local” and “fresh” are almost synonymous. “Fresh” suggests that the food we buy is safe to eat. Several producers are certified “organic,” and almost all are practicing “organic” techniques. As such, their products are healthy and free from contamination by insecticides and other chemicals.
But is it really sane to leave our cozy homes on a Saturday morning and drive many miles to find a tomato plant we could easily buy at Shopko, just a few minutes away? Are we crazy?
I say we’re intentional. First of all, market day is a social event. We’ll run into people we know. A great pull of the market is the chance to bump into friends while finding that tomato plant. And everyone talks to everybody else while standing in the Killarney Farms checkout line.
Tomato plants from Susi, the tomato lady, have done very well in my garden and made wonderful bruschetta and tomato sauce. Susi and her counterparts have given give us advice on how to make our plants grow better. They’re experts. And we trust their advice, because — remember — they’re our friends from years past.
We can also sit down and listen to music and drink our coffee. There’s always music at the market and always espresso for sale — a good thing since we, as a species, are addicted to coffee.
It’s a weekly celebration of the verdant earth of summer, and if the sun is shining, it’s heaven on earth.
This year the market’s directors are introducing some changes to make the experience more producer- and consumer-friendly. For one thing, opening has been moved from 8 am to 9:00. This means that Ellen Scriven and Paul Smith of Killarney Farms near Harrison, for example, can start their delivery run at 6:30 instead of 5:30 am. Perhaps in September they won’t have to set up in the dark.
For the first time, the market is equipped to take food stamps. This will open up access to affordable, fresh vegetables for eligible food-stamp recipients. An area with activities for young children is another new addition to the market.
Markets are all about community and community building. The folks at the Kootenai County Farmers Market have known that all along. They built a community of producers in 1986 and have been perfecting it year by year. Part of their stability comes from a board of directors, each of whom is a producer, with an investment of time, tools and passion in the enterprise.
The passion is contagious, and a happy horde of consumers will find their way to 95th and Prairie throughout the summer and into fall.
And for the “what’s for dinner” crowd, the smaller but very welcome spin-off, the Downtown Coeur d’Alene Market, will be open each Wednesday from 4 to 7 pm through Sept. 28.