America's Top Farmer's Markets: Portland Farmers Market
Although there are four sponsored greenmarkets in Portland, this is the granddaddy-or the earth mother, the nurturing one you come back to time and again. In 1992, at Albers Mill, there were only 13 vendors, activists who wanted to undercut the mass-produced food scene. Today, there are hundreds of vendors, a paid staff and an all-volunteer governing board: a true grassroots success story, local passion to grand scale. Unlike many farmers' markets, the Portland Farmers Market has no government funding; they do it the old-fashioned way-with fundraisers, auctions, vendor fees and volunteers. The market is also held at other locations on Wednesdays and Thursdays but Saturday's the day, especially since that's when the Taste the Place booth allows sampling and tips for eating, cooking and storing produce ranging from bok choy to kohlrabi. Every other Saturday, the market hosts a Kids Cook class to teach 7- to 11-year-olds to cook. In 2005, the market helped initiate the Eat Local Challenge (eatlocal.net) and local growers benefit directly from such community-wide support.
This is a region that makes being a localvore easy: the Hood River Valley is one of the world's top pear-growing areas; the Willamette Valley, at over 5,200 square miles, has become a haven not only for pinot noir, but also for a burgeoning organic produce movement, a riot of heirloom tomatoes and leafy greens. And the rich, volcanic soil and damp, cool conditions produce delectable berries that are celebrated all summer long.
At any time, there's a plethora of environmental activists, concerned growers and very informed customers: most know a ramp from a scallion, and what "certified organic" really means. Don't forget your Tolstoy: you'll fit right in with the readerly crowds on the benches or grass, sipping chai lattes and watching the people stroll past. And don't be in a hurry. Portland's a carefree chaos, bubbling excitement and Rastafarian music. Kick back and buy the berries-here's the life we were dreaming about in college.
Our Favorite Vendors
Start your day with Mike, Marsh and Celeste Shadbolt, who will be glad to show you the joys of the Royal Ann cherry, usually chemically morphed into maraschinos but best (and rarely) enjoyed for the sweet, juicy sparkplug it is. The Shadbolts bought a withering orchard near Salem over 13 years ago and have regenerated it into organic Cherry Country, specializing in Royal Anns.
With their commitment to organic production, the Bolsters have grown their Deep Roots Farm in Albany, Oregon, from three to 60 acres of berries, tomatoes and winter squash. And another part of Oregon's bounty? The Pacific Ocean. Gilson Marine Farms sells abalone, clams and oysters from Netarts Bay, briny wonders for the grill any night.
The market hosts dozens of festivals. Don't miss the Tomato Fiesta, the first weekend in September, to witness the contest where home growers bring in their biggest and best. Fifty varieties of heirlooms for tasting? Who can resist? And then there's the Great Pumpkin Event on the Saturday before Halloween: every Lucy gets to take a knife to Linus's pumpkin, with a costume parade to follow.
Sat., 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., in the South Park Blocks between SW Harrison and Montgomery. For other weekday locations, check the website, portlandfarmersmarket.org.