I’m honored to have my friend Matthew Shook share his experiences with you today from Portland, Oregon, which has now skyrocketed toward the top of my must visit cities list (beer, bikes and vegetables? Does it get any better?)
I hope you enjoy it!
Farmers Market Update: Portland
by Matthew Shook
A friend once asked me to describe what winter was like in Portland. I immediately conjured up images of Portlanders seeking shelter in coffee hangouts and microbreweries, slowly sipping their mugs of decadent java and pilsners of obsidian-colored stout; all while thumbing through used copies of Portland Noir while buckets of rain poured outside. When you factor in the short days of sunlight, well, everything about it seemed very dark.
With five straight days of sunlight and temperatures reaching into the 60s, the landscape is transitioning to the bright green of new growth and the brilliant pink of cherry blossoms. I’m thrilled to say that winter in Portland is now unofficially over. (Next week it’ll become official, at least according to the vernal equinox.)
Portlanders are very proud people. When they set their mind to something they fully commit themselves to the point of being almost obsessive about it. Take beer and bikes for example.
Portland boasts the largest number of microbreweries in the nation (some argue in the world), and that’s not even including the hundreds of DIY brewers operating out of their basements. You’d be hard pressed to walk two city blocks without running into a brewery or a bar that serves local beer on tap. This city-wide obsession earned Portland the moniker “Beertown” (or “Beervana” as many beer elitists prefer).
Portland is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, second only to Amsterdam. Extensive bike lines and corridor trails accommodate over 15,000 bike commuters per day, and the city recently adopted a $613 million plan to further expand bicycling infrastructure and safety measures.
It may be hard to believe, but Portlanders are as fanatical about their Farmers Markets as they are their beer and bikes. With over 30 active Farmers Markets within the Portland Metro area, there is no shortage of fresh local produce for Portlanders–even during the winters, which can occasionally be quite harsh.
Many of the major markets like the Downtown PSU Farmers Market will have their celebratory season openings in the next few weeks, so for this Farmers Market Update I visited the Hillsdale Farmers Market that operates year-round. This farmers market is a great mid-size venue with over 40 vendors in the winter, which is a pretty sweet deal.
There are still signs of winter with a good selection of winter produce like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, leeks, onions and kohlrabi. These are excellent items to throw into a hearty winter soup.
I spotted some delicious greens such as rapini, bok choy, nettle, fennel, spinach and kale.
There were a few really unique items that caught my attention. The Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes), fiddleheads and wild mushrooms were an interesting find. Wild mushrooms are quite popular (and abundant) in Oregon and there was no shortage of varieties available. The various fungi included yellowfoot, lion’s mane, hedgehog and maitake, amongst others.
I met two very friendly and informative vendors who each honed their respective crafts in Europe. Sara-Beth, the owner of Nonna’s Noodles, makes fresh hand-made organic pasta from her Grandmother’s old recipe. Edgar of Fressen Artisan Bakery brings amazing fresh baked European-style bread and is a vendor at several Farmers Markets around Portland. I’m partial to his Bierbrot (Sourdough Beer bread) and Kalamata olive handiwork. I know what some of you may be thinking, “pasta and bread on Summer Tomato?” These are definitely worth indulging in for those special meals.
Fraga Farm Cheese
There was some amazing organic goat cheese being sold by Fraga Farms, a staple a local Farmers Markets and Co-ops.
There were several meat vendors selling both fresh and pre-packaged salmon, as well as booth duck, pheasant, buffalo, elk and yak meat.
One vendor was selling a huge variety of winter/early spring produce seedlings such as beets, endives, broccoli and peas.
One neat aspect of many Portland Farmers Markets is that several accept the Oregon Trail Card (the local equivalent of food stamps). At the main information booth you can swipe your card and receive an amount you specify in wooden dollars that can be spent at any vendor. I believe it’s a great way to encourage those suffering from financial hardship to eat healthy and support their local farmers.
- Organic leek (Gathering Together Farm)
- Organic kale (Gathering Together Farm)
- Organic Rose Gold potatoes (Gathering Together Farm)
- Organic Jerusalem artichoke (Gathering Together Farm)
- Sourdough Beer bread (Fressen Artisan Bakery)
- Organic Spinich Linguine (Nonna’s Noodles)
- Organic Chipotle Goat Cheese (Fraga Farm)
- Oraganic Brocolli seedling (Gales Meadow Farm)
- Organic Dwarf Sugar Pea Pod seedling (Gales Meadow Farm)
- 100% Apple Cider (Drapes Girl’s Farm)
What unique finds did you come across at your Farmers Market?