It may be half as big as it used to be, but it’s also twice as good.
Like markets everywhere, this little “market-that-could” has weathered the pandemic with creativity and good spirits. Now as they endeavor to ease-up on the once stringent safety precautions, the Issaquah Farmers Market organizers have created a smaller but mightier weekend experience for the whole family.
In my old life of living gig to gig, I made a point to visit the local farmers markets everywhere my jobs sent me. Consequently, I have experienced the local flavors and wares all over the country. Out of the 45 different states I’ve explored, my top favorite farmers markets have been in Pennsylvania (for their looseleaf tea and fries served in big paper cones and covered with vinegar & ketchup). Utah (you can’t go wrong with Chocolate Conspiracy or Kevin Nash’s Vegetables) and our own market right here on the east side of Seattle.
In 2020, it wasn’t a sure thing that this market would make it. But they were able to spread out the vendors, create one-directional traffic flow, and transition everyone to contactless payment systems. This year it is still massively cut down from its original size, but it is no less wonderful. In fact, I think I like it better.
It’s easier to really take in the options when those options are pared down. The crafts are finally back, but the focus is still predominantly on fresh food. The whole space feels open and relaxing. There is always happy music playing (most of the time provided by live, local musicians) and the charming setting of Pickering’s Barn is a welcoming reminder that life can go on even when things get rough. In a beautiful state like Washington, we don’t need a lot to entertain ourselves and find happiness. Most of the time, it’s simply about getting outside and looking around.
Here are the top five benefits you can expect to experience by attending the Issaquah Farmer’s Market:
- Expose your palate to foods you’ve never seen before or always wanted to try. A designated sit-down eating area was recently added, which is a lovely improvement to the overall organization and cleanliness of the event, with or without COVID.
- Procure the healthiest, freshest, most affordable food. You are getting high quality, well cared for products that don’t need to include the markup for long-distance shipping costs.
- Make friends. Get to know your community. In pre-pandemic times, the library’s mobile book van even showed up to provide additional access to good summer reading.
- Enjoy fresh air and exercise. Get the limbs gently moving and the lungs actively expanding in the summer sunshine. Sunlight seeking is especially important in the Pacific Northwest, since most of us are Vitamin D deficient.
- Liven up your recipe stash. Most of the farmers are willing and eager to share their preparation and cooking tips for foods that might be new to you, with variations for dietary needs or experience level. They are the experts on their foods, after all. I myself have discovered several of my favorite, signature recipes this way. Carnation Farms even employs chefs on their property to experiment with their freshest seasonal picks. BONUS: if you’re looking for an activity idea for next weekend or amazing family take away dinners, check them out here.
More specifically, these are the five standouts staples that I can’t let a Saturday go by without trying. The great thing about them all is not just the quality, but the fact that you’re supporting the local economy.
- Bees in the Burbs. The sweetest honey sold by the sweetest woman. Based out of Maple Valley, these bee-keeping honey-magicians have the most enormous variety of honey flavors (I highly recommend “Meadowfoam,” it tastes like marshmallows) as well as honey gifts and products like beeswax candles. Honey has incredible health benefits, especially if you’re prone to allergies, so many locals make this their weekly first stop.
- Oxbow Farm and Conservation Center or Carnation Farms. Come for the veggies, stay for the company. These two rival farms have stalls right next to each other and they both boast equally friendly operators and fresh, fabulous veggies. Their offerings are often slightly different, so be sure to take a look at both.
- Panda Dim Sum. No need to wait until you get home to eat - try one of the food trucks parked at the back of the market! The scents wafting from all of them are magnetic, but the Dim Sum one is my favorite. Full disclosure: I giggled incredibly hard the first time I saw it. This food “truck” is actually a repurposed school bus. But its cuteness is not the only benefit. There’s always a line because it’s delicious. But the proprietor family is efficient and not chatty, so you’ll be scarfing down the delicacies in no time.
- Seattle Pops. My sweet tooth’s affection can certainly be manipulated by the sirens’ call of the many wonderful local bakeries at the market. But this summer has been especially hot so these have added appeal. Plus these wonderful, healthy popsicles are a local specialty. If you want to patronize a company that has eco-friendly business practices, and uses minimal ingredients that are all seasonal and fresh, then these are for you. They offer fruit based and milk based rotating flavors. My vote usually goes to the zesty lime or the cookies and cream.
- Kombucha from Shen Zen Tea. There are two different kombucha vendors in the market and both rotate their flavors weekly. Might I suggest their champagne honey drink? Or the vanilla mint cola syrup, which you add to your sparkling water for a lovely treat? The latter was developed as a healthy alternative to help get the owner’s mom off of her soda addiction. Ironically, now I’m hooked on it.
While some of us binged our favorite tv shows at home in the past year, the local farmers kept working and wishing, and giving us their very best. Let’s show our gratitude and support - plus have some fun while we’re at it- by showing up to our local farmers markets.
More information on the Issaquah Farmers Market and its current safety measures can be found here on their website. It is open Saturdays 9am to 2pm through September 25.