Open for Winter
by Jaret Foster, Senior Market Manager of Portland Farmers Market
I wake up and see it’s 6:30. Oh good, I can roll over and get some sleep, except wait, Winter Market opens today! I had meant to get up at 6 to get a nice slow start to the day but somehow slept in and now I’m rushing to get out the door. I grab my bag full of extra clothes and shopping totes, water bottle and rain gear. I check my phone and see that it’s supposed to clear up later and no rain. I send a quick text to Jamie, our Market Coordinator, letting her know of the good news about the weather and that I am on my way. The streets are largely empty on a Saturday in the dark of morning and I make it to PSU in good time. I drive onto the park blocks and drop off a couple of A-board signs we made up to remind shoppers that we are at Shemanski Park, seven blocks to the north.
Once I get to the market site I am relieved to see that there is only one vendor beginning to setup. It’s Roger from Springwater Farm and he’s only just gotten there. I park my truck and walk over to greet him. He says he’s real happy with his double space but is going to let Kathryn, Chef at The Farmers Feast, set up her side. Kathryn has been cooking with Roger’s mushrooms and produce and will be doing hot food with Springwater for the winter. I had seen their opening menu and look forward to trying one of the pork sliders and seasonal minestrone. She and I used to work together at Café Azul a decade ago and I know that girl can cook.
I look up the way and see that Jamie is just pulling up with our truck. I put my stuff down on the benches and start to help her get unloaded. The first thing we have to do is get the signage and traffic cones out to close Main Street. Otherwise we’re going to have some very confused and potentially dangerous early morning drivers on our tailgate.
Luckily the next grower to arrive is John from Gathering Together Farm. GTF is a sizable operation with a large double space and brings a 25 foot semi truck full of produce and market canopies; that takes care of half of the street closure. I greet John as his market manager Lane arrives and get them situated with where their stall is going to be. They set to work unloading their extensive display and I return to our truck in search of sidewalk chalk.
Jamie has most of what we need unloaded and in the street and I ask if she’s seen any chalk. ”Um, maybe in the bungee bucket” she says. I check there and hop in the back of our 15 foot box van. No chalk. With the impending arrival of 30 or so vendors all with one question on their minds (where’s my spot?) sidewalk chalk is near paramount. “Details!” Jamie reminds me but I believe I have a chunk in my bag, just enough to mark out ten foot intervals and leave scribbled abbreviations of the vendors name on the bricks of the market square.
More vendors start to arrive and it’s starting to feel like a marketplace. Denoble’s Farm with their supersized carrots and parsnips. Rick Steffen with a mountain of Brussels sprouts and squashes, and Alan with Pine Mountain Ranch all the way from Bend with coolers full of wild game meats. I keep thinking I can step away and handtruck some signage up the park blocks but keep getting pulled back into the “where’s my spot, where do I park, where do I pee” conversation. I laugh and wish that my ever informative emails were read with interest.
About 8:30 or so I am really ready for a cup of coffee. Jamie says she’ll pick one up while she’s dropping off signage on Broadway. I welcome that immensely. Unfortunately we did not get any coffee vendor applications for the Winter Market. I even called up a few roasters I know who might want to join us with no luck. I am still hopeful that we’ll be able to get one there; it was a popular question from shoppers and vendors throughout the day.
Once most of the vendors are in their stalls I walk around the market and take a moment to step outside of each entrance. I’m looking to see if the walkways and entrances are open and inviting. Vendors have a habit of what I call stall revving, where they place their displays, canopies and tables as far out into the aisle as possible vying for maximum exposure. This makes for narrow walkways and blocked neighbors. Most look good but I have to give a special hard time to Mark at Tastebud; his canopy leg is right smack in the center of the southwest entrance. He sees me coming and grabs a few mismatched pieces of steel to fabricate a makeshift short leg, backing the whole thing up by four feet. I stand by his wood oven and warm my hands and chat for a bit but he and his staff are looking a bit flustered trying to get ready so I make my way back up to the Manager’s Booth.
It’s nearly 10 and the market looks great. Vendors are chatting amongst each other, shoppers are beginning to fill the aisles and lines are forming at Verde Cocina and Groundwork Organics. Trudy, our Director and Mona our Communications Manager have arrived and are talking with Dave, who does our social media and is setting out a tripod to catch a video of the opening bell. I ask if Trudy wants to do the honor but she says it’s all mine.