Portland, the “City of Roses,” is known not only for its flowers, but also for its food, drink and atmosphere. This season, the Portland Farmers Market (PFM), which runs from April through December, is the perfect locale to witness and partake in the city’s healthy and festive lifestyle.
What began in 1992 with a few local folks who wanted to share delicious food products, Portland’s network of farmers’ markets now offers 250 local vendors and hosts more than 550,000 shopping trips per year. With a wide variety of products coming from farms throughout Oregon and Washington state, the PFM offers both a vibrant social space and much of the best in the Pacific Northwest’s meat, cheese, seafood, baked goods, plants, produce and specialty foods.
Of its four weekly markets, which take place at scenic and eco-friendly locations throughout the city, Saturday’s market at the Portland State University (PSU) campus is the largest and most social, having local entertainment, along with a wide spread of vendors and programs. This year, the PSU market will run every Saturday through Dec. 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the summer and 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the fall. Located on the edge of the picturesque campus in the Park Blocks between Southwest Montgomery and Harrison, the market is easily accessible by foot from downtown and Pioneer Courthouse Square or by MAX Light Rail from other areas of the city.
My trip to the Saturday market began with a stroll through the tree-lined border of the university. The scent of oven-fired bagels and Portland’s famous coffee wafted across the bright green lawn and welcomed me to the teeming path of booths. Blossoming flowers, vibrant fruits and vegetables and sweet-smelling pastries colored the buzzing lawn. It’s an environment that embodies the spirit of this famously “green” city.
As the morning progressed, live musicians and local performers began playing in the central plaza. A crowd gathered to enjoy food and the music, which differs each week.
With programs such as the live entertainment series, the PFM is unique in its fusion of healthy, efficient shopping and fun, educational events. For the 2008 season, PFM’s schedule promises the return of long-running market favorites and a few exciting additions.
“This year, specifically, we are excited about the visibility the city’s farmers market is gaining. It is integral to the process of making people more aware of where food comes from and how healthy meals changes seasonally,” said Anna Curtin, outreach coordinator for the market.
Taste the Place, one of the market staff’s favorite programs, introduces shoppers to a different type of “underappreciated” produce each week. As staff prepare and sample the product on the spot, participating marketgoers are taught easy recipes, given useful tips on storage and preservation and learn the health benefits of the specific ingredient. A few of this season’s demonstrations include fava beans and peas; alliums, such as onions, shallots, leeks and garlic; and fall greens, such as chard, kale and collard greens.
“It’s a great education for the consumer,” said Carrie Hoops, interim executive director of the PFM.
The Chef in the Market program is a weekly, hour-long demonstration by one of Portland’s top chefs. The chef begins presenting at 10 a.m. and uses the market’s fresh ingredients to design and guide shoppers through a seasonal dish. The entire process is interactive, giving consumers the opportunity to ask questions and sample food from well-known chefs, such as Scott Dolich, Gabriel Rucker and Naomi Pomeroy, who are scheduled for this season.
For youngsters, the twice-monthly Kids Cook program is a chance for a hands-on experience preparing fresh ingredients, meeting local farmers and getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the market. All of the classes, intended for children ages 7 to 11, are taught by professional chefs, restaurateurs or local cooking experts and include recipes to take home. The cost is $15 per student, per class.
“The idea is to develop hearty, lifelong seasonal eaters,” said Curtin.
In addition to the market’s weekly programs, the PFM also puts on a number of special events and festivals.
In June, the Red, White and Blueberry Festival will celebrate the region’s bounty of berries by serving more than 1,000 complimentary berry shortcakes to customers with a purchase of $5 or more. Bluegrass music and children’s activities will be part of the celebrations, which take place on June 19 and 26 at the Ecotrust and Eastbank Markets.
On Aug. 20, the Tomato Fiesta will ignite the Saturday market with a Hot Stuff salsa-making competition and live Latin music. Avid home gardeners can compete for the biggest tomato while tasting over 50 varieties of seasonal heirloom tomatoes.