With the cut of a ribbon and the cheer of a crowd, the Issaquah Farmers Market will open tomorrow for its 19th season, heralding the arrival of fresh air, fruit and flowers.
Oh, and a cow will be cutting the ribbon.
“(The farmers market) is a great family event,” said Jera Gilmore, event coordinator for Issaquah Parks and Recreation, sponsor of the market. “It’s fun for everyone who comes to it, and there’s always something different going on.”
The market runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday at the Pickering Barn, 1730 10th Ave. N.W., rain or shine.
About 100 vendors set up shop every weekend to sell their wares, which range from fresh produce and flowers to a potpourri of arts and crafts.
That wide variety is one of the things that sets Issaquah’s market apart from others’, Gilmore said. Because Pickering Barn isn’t lacking in space, the city can bring in as many vendors as are interested, unlike many markets that have to squeeze into small parking lots or buildings.
“Because we have that space, we like to give the community a large variety of things to shop for,” Gilmore said. “A lot of markets are more limited, and usually have to let go of their crafts, which is definitely our heavy end.”
She estimated that more than 50 percent of the vendors in Issaquah are selling some sort of homemade good — anything from jewelry to quilts. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of farmers. The most popular stands, she said, are definitely the produce and fresh-cut flowers.
Laura and Dave Casey, owners of Changing Seasons Farms in Carnation, have been coming to the Issaquah Farmers Market for five years to sell what they say is “everything from artichokes to zuchini.”
And over those years, they’ve built up a strong base of new and regular customers who look forward to visiting their stand every week.
“By the end of the season, we have customers saying, ‘Oh, we’ll miss you so much, we’ll miss your produce, how soon are you coming back next year?’” Laura Casey said. “It’s wonderful to build those connections, and a setting like (a farmers market) definitely allows you to do that.”
In addition to vendors, the Issaquah market provides concessions, hobby booths, and different forms of entertainment every weekend.
A live band performs the first Saturday of every month, and in the past, the market has been stage to a string quartet, a mariachi band, and a ukulele group.
The second Saturday is host to cooking demonstrations by professional chefs, using only food sold at the market, and the last Saturday gears a variety of activities toward children for Kid’s Day — including providing them with free booths to sell their own crafts or produce.
People can also find a booths sponsored by the Issaquah Historical Society, and competitions like the cherry pit spitting contest.
“There’s always something for everyone,” Gilmore said.
At tomorrow’s market, children can take pictures with the Easter Bunny for $7. Profits from the photos will go to the Lukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Patronage has grown over the years, and Gilmore said an average sunny day last year saw about 4,000 people come through.
One of the biggest reasons people come to the market is because of an effort to buy local, fresh produce, Casey said.
“People really like to see the person who grew their food, and talk to them about it, and know exactly where it came from,” she said. “They love to ask a lot of questions about how to cook it, and really just appreciate learning different things.”
Others are drawn to the sustainability aspect, she said — all produce sold at the market is certified naturally grown, or certified organic.
It’s also all grown in Washington, which means no trips across the country in freezer trucks.
Because the produce is so fresh, it also has a higher nutrient value.
“(Farmers markets) are marvelous for local farmers,” Casey said. “We’re meeting people, establishing connections, and really just making a community. It’s a lot of fun.”
Vendors interested in selling at the Issaquah Farmers Market should submit an application to the city. There is a $35 membership fee for the season, and it costs $25 per Saturday.
The city is also looking for any volunteers who can help out on Saturdays by passing out flyers, working at information booths, monitoring traffic, picking up garbage, and of course, wearing the cow suit.
“A farmers market is a community builder; it’s a great way to expose people to music they’re not used to, interesting performances, and a variety of art,” Gilmore said. “Not to mention getting great access to local, fresh food. It’s a great way to support our community farmers.”