As I explore my new home of Bellevue, Washington, I’m reminded of how important California’s agricultural exports are to the rest of the nation. While shopping for fresh fruit at grocery stores, signs stating “grown in California” pop out at me.
Northern California’s farmers markets offer an abundance of locally grown, organic produce as well as crafts, jewelry and clothing that shoppers may not find elsewhere. As a Chico native, I often frequented the Thursday Night Market and Saturday morning farmers market in search of fresh fruit, veggies and olive oil.
Bellevue’s farmers market offers its own locally grown produce as well as a plethora of prepared food items, such as pizza, tamales, crepes and ice cream, and specialty items, such as decadent chocolate sauce. About a dozen or so vendors offer produce, including greens, radishes, carrots, an astounding variety of mushrooms and heirloom tomatoes, and more. Bouquets of frilly white and pink peonies welcome shoppers. The strawberries look delicious but would be dwarfed by the large strawberries from Northern California. However, you won’t find fresh oysters at the Chico or Redding farmers markets.
Chico’s large farmers markets always seem packed with people while Bellevue’s farmers markets offer plenty of walking space and time to chat with vendors about their wares. In late June, market volunteers explained, this is partly because there are fewer vendors than last year. The long rainy season hit some Washington farmers hard. Crops are rotting in the fields, said Pete McDowell, a volunteer coordinator at the Saturday morning farmers market.
The farmers who have been able to harvest their crops enjoy sharing them with locals at the market. “It’s all fresh, really fresh, and most of it is organic,” McDowell said. He added that Bellevue’s farmers markets support small, local farms and only sell food, not crafts.
The Bellevue farmers market, which runs Thursdays and Saturdays, has been going on for about seven years. Executive Director Lori Taylor and her family started the market to support local farmers.
Taylor’s mother, Fran August, has been a market volunteer since the beginning. August and her husband used to put out signs advertising the farmers market. Now the person doing that job gets paid. Still, the whole family is involved in this local venture. They like seeing farmers receive community support, August said, adding “I’m an old farmer.”
She also emphasized that her daughter didn’t have a business degree, but she had the initiative to start a farmers market in Bellevue. “She was a theater major,” August said. When the first farmers market opened, “she said, ‘it’s just like opening night.'”
Market volunteer JoAnn Harlan said the market’s produce varies each week. The Saturday morning market is aimed at those who want to stock up on groceries early in the day while still having the rest of the weekend to recreate. The Thursday evening market entices people to shop after work.
In that sense, Bellevue’s not so different from Chico, which also holds downtown farmers markets on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.
Across the country, consumers regularly purchase several crops produced only in California. The Golden State produces nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S., according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The Evergreen State, on the other hand, contributes the largest slice – 59 percent – of the nation’s apple production. Washington ranks first in the U.S. for production of 10 commodities, including apples, sweet cherries, pears, red raspberries, and hops, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
California powers the nation’s agriculture economy, but Washington farmers bring something special – and perhaps red and delicious – to the table as well.
Supporting local farmers:
If you’re visiting Washington, Bellevue’s market runs at 3-7 p.m. Thursdays, May 13-Oct. 14, at 1717 Bellevue Way NE, and at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, June 5-Nov. 20, at 10610 NE Eighth St. For more information, visit http://bellevuefarmersmarket.org/.
If you’re in Northern California, Chico’s year-round farmers market runs 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays at E. Second Street and Wall Street. The Thursday Night Farmers Market runs at 6-9 p.m. Thursdays from early April through late September, on Broadway, from E. Second Street to E. Fifth Street. It’s hosted by the Downtown Chico Business Association: www.downtownchico.net.
Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Bellevue, Washington. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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