03 August 2010

Five Questions for Susan Bliss

A blissful Bliss at Shemanski Market

Who is Susan Bliss, you may ask?  Susan is a dedicated market shopper, who for years our staff has seen happily perusing vendors’ booths, rain or shine.  During last year’s fundraiser raffle, Susan won our grand prize: a year of shopping at Portland Farmers Market.  We must say, it couldn’t have happened to a more lovely or deserving market enthusiast!

We caught up with Susan recently to find out how she has been enjoying her weekly trips to the market.

How did you feel when you found out you’d won a year of shopping at PFM?

When I bought 10 raffle tickets at the Shemanski Park market one beautiful Wednesday last October, it was because I wanted to support Portland Farmers Market, not because I thought Iʼd win anything. After all, I learned long ago the odds against it when the rules of chance are at play. And no question of wanting to help the market—living nearby and being able to shop there every week is one of my husband Jerryʼs and my top delights since moving to Portland from Washington, D.C. in 2006. Nevertheless, I showed up at the market for the prize drawing on Halloween, which happened to fall on a Saturday. It was a festive day anyway, with many decked-out vendors joining the costumed children for a holiday parade.

When I found the spot, the raffle seemed to be over, with only a couple of people around and five scraps of paper, each with a name on it, arranged in a column on a table. The scrap at the top of the column had my name on it. Someone had to explain to me why: “You are The Grand Prize Winner!” Yikes! I was overcome with disbelief, then euphoria, followed again by disbelief. I was trying to resolve reality with my life-long conviction that winning such a contest was impossible. And finally, I was thrilled and grateful to be able to anticipate a year of shopping in an atmosphere that has come to represent wonderful food, engaging vendors, aesthetic delight and just plain fun.

What have you enjoyed most about your weekly shopping trips to PFM?

Even in the “shoulder seasons,” when the selection is smaller, the market is a high point of my week: I love talking to the people who work so hard to grow this beautiful food and who get up so early to bring it to our neighborhoods—the Saturday, Wednesday and now Monday markets are a short walk from where we live. The farmers have taught me a lot about seasons, farm work, and cooking. At the height of the summer, the market presents a tantalizing visual impression of Oregonʼs flavorful agricultural bounty. The beauty of the product inspires me every week and encourages my desire to plan, buy, and cook.

What are your favorite items to purchase at the market?

As a vegan, I stick to a plant-based diet, and I revel in the marvelous variety of fruits, vegetables and even prepared foods that I can buy here. Since I spent most of my life on the East Coast, Iʼm still not used to the idea that just-picked morel mushrooms are available by the fistful for weeks on end, or that as their seasons roll by, I can find six kinds of lettuces, up to five types of cherries, five or six kinds of berries and innumerable squashes—all foods we love—to take home. Although Iʼve been vegan for about six years, and a vegetarian for 18 years before that, Iʼve learned a lot about vegetables and added a lot of variety to our diet, thanks to the array of herbs and harvested plants we can find at the market. Iʼve also connected with a great organization called NWVeg, which offers education and support to people wanting to adopt or maintain a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. As a volunteer for NWVegʼs Vegfest (to be held this year on Sep. 18 and 19 at the Oregon Convention Center) and its Compassionate Thanksgiving in November, Iʼve been able to purchase provisions for these public events at the farmers market.

Why is purchasing local important to you?

Jerry and I moved to Oregon in part because of the stateʼs flourishing agricultural traditions. We like knowing that our produce hasnʼt been trucked across the country powered by fossil fuels. At the market, I enjoy talking with the vendors, and naturally I want to support them with my business. Also, local food tastes better. As the marketʼs offerings become more bountiful over the summer, our trips to the grocery become fewer and eventually our purchases there narrow to coffee, lemons, and medjool dates. I doubt that Iʼll be around for the day when Oregonʼs climate has warmed enough to grow those crops, and Iʼve become aware that, as “imports,” they are also luxuries.

Why are you donating your August shopping trips to Potluck in the Park?

Weʼll be away for part of that time, and I wanted to share my incredibly good fortune with people who probably donʼt have much chance to enjoy what the market has to offer. Every Sunday for 19 years, the all-volunteer effort known as Potluck in the Park has provided hot meals to people in need. Their OʼBryant Square venue is in our neighborhood, and walking by, I always notice how many people gather (Potluck in the Park routinely serves 300-400 meals each week) and the “atmosphere of community” (as the organizationʼs mission statement puts it) that prevails.

Thank you, Susan!  We’ll see you at the market.