Spring is here! The Portland Farmers Market is once again open for the season.
It was a wet and wild early April morning, but that didn’t stop the crowds at this year’s opening of the Portland Farmers Market. I felt like an excited little kid at Christmas, calling up my friends and asking them to be there at the ungodly hour of 8:30 am. Jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, I checked my watch at least half a dozen times to make sure I wouldn’t be late. By 9 am it was already difficult to find a parking space, and it was even harder to find a dry spot to huddle away from the on and off again drizzle.
The atmosphere was festive, even if almost everyone was dressed in the typical slouchy Portland uniform of Gortex, fleece, baseball caps, and soggy jeans. People were laughing and smiling, and bumping up against each other with their umbrellas waving about and their tote bags piled high with a bounty of early spring veggies and flowers.
Started in 1992, the market has now become such a Portland institution that it is hard to imagine our city without it. It’s where many of us take out of town guests to show off our blue-ribbon-worthy produce; where we meet up with neighbors to share coffee, crumbly butter laden pastries, and gossip; where we get inspired to try new recipes and come up with elaborate menus based on what looks good that day; where we make connections and friendships with those who grow our food and feed us; and where we love, more than anything, to watch the delight, discovery and excitement of others.
Say what you will about Portland, but there really is no denying that we are obsessive about all things food; it’s where our city comes alive. The market feeds the soul of our community. When you overhear a lengthy and passionate discussion between a vendor and a buyer on how exactly the free range Tibetan yak sausage differs from the water buffalo one; where one cheese maker breaks into perfectly pronounced French over a question about the “mystery cheese” he made by mistake last year but sold anyway to much acclaim; and when a proud tweed suited older gentleman and his well-dressed lady companion of the same age cradle a bundle of pure white leeks in their arms like it is their precious baby grandchild – all of this shows that Portland is a very special town and that the farmers market is one of its jewels.
With the gentle accordion music played by Schicky Gnarowitz in the background, I felt like I was floating through a charming Parisian market.
Everything looked so green and so fresh, that memories of our recent winter suddenly vanished. Bright tulips and daffodils. First of the season goat and other local cheeses tasting of sweet spring grass. Wild mushrooms and truffles galore. Even rare seasonal veggies such as ramps, sea beans, golf ball sized Japanese turnips with their tender greens still attached, and baskets of fresh nettles which are perfect for cream soups and spring cleansing tonics. Add the usual vendors such as Fressen Bakery’s hearty breads, Alma Chocolates, and the decent selection of quality meats and seafood, and you have the makings for a perfect spring weekend brunch, lunch, or supper.
I saw old friends like Jim Dixon , a regular vendor, selling his stellar olive oils and quality sea salts, and congratulated Rogue Creamery on their recent and triumphant European grand tour where they wowed the crowds and the judges at various festivals with their cheeses. Did you know Rogue now has a very rare permit that allows them to export their cheese to Europe? What a coup!
After doing five loops around the market, I rested a bit for my favorite snack of artichoke tamales at the Salvador Molly booth. Sitting under the large central tarp I listened to Oregon author Heather Flores, who wrote the book Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. Inspired, I then bought some pea starts, an artichoke plant, and a couple of herbs to plant in my own front yard. Viva the food revolution!
Before I left, one of the best things I saw was a small gaggle of kids pick up a few live ducklings and carry them over to a puddle soaked fountain. Ducks and kids all splashed and played in the water and rain, and the parents didn’t even look cross at having to deal with dirty mud soaked wee-ones. Nope, even the adults were having too much fun.
And if this opening day was any indication, 2007 at the market looks to be a very good year indeed.
See you bright and early next week!
The Portland Farmers Market is open from April 7 to December 22, and expands in May to include three other markets in the downtown area. Avoid parking hassles by taking the streetcar or one of the many buses with several stops less than 2 blocks away. Extensive information including directions, schedules, seasonal product availability, and a list of vendors can be found on the Portland Farmers Market website