If there is one thing to be protected as the world descends into chaos, and the dumpster fire that is America burns faster and brighter, please, dear God, let it be the sanctity of the farmers market. Like lemonade stands, Betty White, and paparazzi photos of the Queen driving, farmers markets embody a sense of such lovely wholesomeness that demands they be shielded from the ills of our modern era.
When I think of farmers markets, I imagine people in overalls selling carrots and squash, and small, old women sitting quietly with their hand-carved soaps. I smell fresh cut flowers, hot pastries, and the faintest whiff of manure. I hear a cacophony of voices, young and old, groggy and energetic, clamoring together like wind chimes in Chicago.
My senior year of high school, on every Sunday morning that our schedules would allow, my mother and I paid a visit to our local farmers market. For at least half an hour, we’d wander the white tented-aisles, coffees and wicker basket in hand, always leaving with the same two items: flowers, for the vase on the kitchen table, and a carton of strawberries, for lunches.
Like many things when I came to college, I left behind these Sunday mornings with my mom. When I arrived in Seattle, homesick and terrified, I resolved to keep these markets as the one constant in a life that had become all about change.
For the most part, I’ve kept this promise to myself. Over the course of the past three quarters, I’ve visited a multitude of the farmers markets Seattle has to offer, sometimes with friends and other times alone. I’ve enjoyed the slow, blissful pace of these weekend mornings, finding the overall experience to be both emotionally therapeutic and an utter catastrophe for my wallet.
Below are brief descriptions of two of my favorite Seattle markets, both of which I toured (or re-toured) in the course of a single weekend. Each market was evaluated solely based on how much it made me miss my mom.
Just kidding. I considered location, selection offered, pricing, and good old-fashioned ambience.
I feel obligated to lead with a disclaimer that I visited these markets with my sister, who happened to be visiting that weekend. Normally this kind of detail wouldn’t warrant any sort of inclusion, but it had been two months since she and I last saw each other (cheers to twins attending college in different states), and I was feeling overwhelmingly sappy as we walked arm-in-arm through the sea of white tents.
To reach the U-District farmers market, which is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., you must climb the offensively long, though not very steep Ave until you reach its flat top. (Or, you can approach the market from the north end of the UW and skip the laborious climb altogether — an approach that, in hindsight, might have put my sister in a better mood). Once you pass the market’s pearly gates (read: roadblock signs at its entry points at Northeast 50th and Northeast 52nd Street), you will see the full glory of the market before you.
The U-District market is two blocks of white tents that you could easily spend an hour slowly crawling through or, if you’re the impatient type, 60 seconds sprinting through. Up for browsing is your standard farmers market fare: floral arrangements, baked goods, handcrafted beauty products, artisan coffee and chocolates, fresh produce, and food stands for breakfast and lunch dishes. Like any market, the pricing is what I would call an “oof” to one’s wallet; though I think we can all agree that the words “artisan” and “all organic” have and will never be followed by a cheaper price.
Although the market is right off campus — a location that might lead one to expect the crowds to be predominantly university students — the majority of market-goers are young families and elderly couples. (Maybe this is because student budgets prefer produce from Safeway or Trader Joe’s.)
The atmosphere was a comfortable mix of groggy (the children) and what I’ll call “weekend cheerful” (the elderly). To my sister’s absolute delight, there was an overwhelming number of dogs whose owners were more than happy to let us stop and pet each one. Being the absolute wretch of a human I am, I myself found joy in watching two dogs, one extremely large, the other approximately the size of a graham cracker, fight with each other outside the artisan coffee cart.
Overall, the U-District farmers market was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, possibly because, rather mercifully, it didn’t rain that Saturday morning, or maybe because I felt like an extra on the set of “Planet Earth.” After her anger over our long walk up the Ave subsided, and she had pet three or four Labradoodles, my sister concurred with my evaluation of the market, describing her morning as “not as crappy as I thought it would be.”
The following day, my sister and I performed our civic duty for the year and paid to ride the Link to Capitol Hill. Following an extended brunch, she and I wandered aimlessly down Broadway, following women with peony bouquets and baskets of lettuce until we came upon the Capitol Hill farmers market, which is open every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Nestled in the brick square outside Seattle Central College at the intersection of Broadway Avenue East and East Pine Street, the market was a less symmetrical (compared to the U-District’s straight line) jumbling of the same white tents and food stalls. The overall selection was relatively similar to that of the U-District market. I did, however, notice some unique offerings, like Danish pancake balls and seven-layer cakes, that gave this market a bit of an edge over its competitor. The pricing was, once again, a bit steep, but nothing too far outside the realm of what I’ve come to expect as a frequent market-goer.
The market was populated by millennial couples, middle-aged solo shoppers, and gaggles of girl groups likely having their “spontaneous” Sunday outing. To my sister’s dismay, there weren’t as many dogs at this market; there was, however, a grassy park area where shoppers could sit and rest in the shade.
Truthfully, I have less to say about the Capitol Hill market, because my memory of the experience is a bit clouded by how uncomfortably full I was from brunch. This market, overall, is similar to that of the U-District in both selection and pricing; it does, however, offer a nice change of scenery if you’re feeling extra energetic and want to schlep it to the Hill. The ambience is what I would call “millennial fresh” with a hint of the Sunday scaries, and could reasonably be classified as neutral good, with a splash of chaotic dessert options.
The U-District and Capitol Hill farmers markets are just two of the many that Seattle has to offer. The Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, founded in 1993 with the opening of the U-District market, holds year-round and seasonal markets in locations such as West Seattle, Lake City, and Magnolia. Visiting these markets, even if just to browse and talk with stall owners, is a great way to support Washington’s small family farm businesses and also presents a nice opportunity for busy students looking to take a leisurely break.
Reach writer Brooke Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @bkaufmanLJ
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