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Tacoma Farmers Market: for the people, by the people

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Vaguely I remember being in Hungary.  I was young — only 8 — and many of my memories of the place have faded.

But I remember Budapest’s open-air markets, with squawking chickens, fresh eggs, and just-harvested produce.

I get the same feeling wandering through local farmers’ markets, though there are less livestock sounds (and smells) and more hand-crafted items the way we do “market day.”

The last time I was in Hungary, the iron curtain had just dropped opening a free market for trade, and there was a new optimism among the people.

It seems like now in Tacoma there’s a similar optimistic feeling.  It’s almost a post free market thing where we’ve stopped to realize that getting mass-produced produce shipped from other countries in a not-entirely-fresh state is not as pleasing as getting a product from the local source.

We’ve been thinking about the planet and our resources, and we’ve been realizing that there’s an easy way to “think globally, act locally,” and it’s just down the street.

Not only that, but it’s a fun day out that brings the term “community” to a new light.

Where else but the Downtown Market can you see the suited, tagged business types, en-masse, rub shoulders with the eco-conscious woven-bag types?  Both stop to buy the flowers — huge bouquets, cheap! — and both stop to get food items, either the My Newt baby donuts, cooked so fresh they sting your nostrils as you walk past, or the ice cream cones whose fragrance soothe the same stung nostrils like a balm.

Balms, too — from handmade soaps to pet items to lotions and potions —abound, alongside “only in market” items such as Miranda’s duct-tape bags or Leah’s recycled-yarn trivets, ponchos, and blankets.

And of course, there’s produce. Fresh greens start me off, thinking of my next dinner.  I overhear conversation at Terry’s Berries about weekly organic boxes and get inspired. Next stop at the downtown market, the salmon booth. Last year, I purchased a slab of it just after paying something obscene, like $25 a pound, for Copper River salmon.  I liked the Copper River, don’t get me wrong, but I think I liked it the way I like a really expensive glass of wine — there’s a sort of anticipatory, “Oh my God this is gonna rock my world” thing that makes me ooh and ahh potentially with a scoshce more gusto than if it were a similar tasting, cheaper product.

But eating the market salmon, after thawing it slowly in the fridge, I had an eye-opening “Oh my God my world has been rocked” salmon-eating experience.

After the salmon stand, I note Cheryl “the Pig Lady” Oulette.  She tells me about her farm where pigs roam shoulder-to-wing with the chickens, and where natural grain and farming systems ensure taste and quality. 

Salmon? Pork? I can’t decide between the two, so I wander on to another booth where I look at dry-erase trivets, and then admire hand-made Jamila dolls and a boa-topped A-embossed crown my daughter would fancy in her room.

I stop at the Farmer’s Market booth and buy a $20 hand-woven bag — when at the Tacoma Farmers’ Market, do as the other shoppers.  The bag isn’t just for show, though — I’m thinking, once again, about Europe, and England, and how, in my travels there, I noticed a strange trend: daily shopping for small amounts that fit into baskets just like this one, or like the French Market basket I saw (and coveted) at Country Girl Gardens just across from the Farmers’ Market at the Mid-level Shops at Sanford & Son. While I suspect my own basket will be more for my weekly market shopping excursions than a daily shop, like I used to do as a nanny, the basket inspires me to think more like the Euro-shoppers; if I can limit my shopping to reusable shopping bags, maybe I won’t go off the shopping deep end, filling my trunk with stuff that’ll wind up as land-fill fodder?

Wandering on, to the L’Arche Farms booth, I think about the community that represents, with hiring practices that include individuals with developmental disabilities to work in greenhouses and flower fields.

I stop by flowers, a mere $10 for a huge, colorful bunch, and I consider buying myself a bouquet.  I’ll fit in with the others holding flowers, the bouquet will have a certain European flair sticking out of my basket, and sitting happily on my table, they’ll remind me all week about my trip through the market and down memory lane.

[Downtown Market on Broadway, through Oct. 18, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday, between Ninth and 11th streets on Broadway, downtown Tacoma,]

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