Saturday, 10:02 a.m.
I arrive on campus and park my bicycle at one of the green bike staples along the street. Straight ahead through the rain and across the paved stone path leading to the quad, I see it: white tents flapping in the wind, crowds of people milling about, examining the produce, carrying canvas shopping bags.
I am here finally, at the Portland Farmers Market.
I meet Jenny, a friend of mine who lives on campus and we wander together through the crowd.
The Portland State Farmers Market has been in operation since 1992 featuring up to 140 stalls along the quad of the PSU campus. Over 20,000 visitors frequent the market every Saturday, which is open year-round from 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
The market features fresh produce by local vendors, artisanal cheeses, baked goods, locally-produced meat, coffee and food vendors. I have come here to experience first-hand this weekly event—the crowds, the natural bounty of the Pacific Northwest—and see what there is to see.
To visit the Farmers Market is to experience the nucleus of the Portland food scene: these vendors issue forth the artisanal dishes, ethnic cuisine and celebrated recipes that have made the Pacific Northwest a garden of earthly foodie delights.
Wandering the stalls, I’m immediately struck by the amount of produce I’ve never heard of: the strange, otherworldly vegetable life that simply grows out of the earth with nothing more than sunshine, water and soil.
Who knew for example, that there were so many varieties of potatoes? Where do they come from? From what dark recesses of the earth do they issue forth? At the market I see names like Huckleberry Gold, Colorado Rose, Mountain Rose, Amarossa, Red Bliss, Inca Gold, and others.
I wander, transfixed and overwhelmed. Toward the interior we pass a stall selling winter squash. The placard reads, “Thelma Sweet Potato Squash.” I stop and look into the crate. I pick one up. It’s the size of a small pumpkin, teardrop-shaped, bright yellow, ringed with bumpy ridges running vertically along its sides.
“So,” I say, to no one in particular. “Is it a potato, or is it a squash?”
“It’s a sweet potato squash,” says Jenny.
“But is it a sweet potato, or is it a squash?”
“It’s a squash,” she says.
“Okay.” I put it back where I found it. Sweet potato squash, I think.
The stage in the center features musical guests throughout the day—for now an artist named Jet Black Pearl plays songs on the accordion. Beyond the main stage there are other, less-official musical guests who seem to come and go at will. Someone near the library is playing a metal hand-drum that sounds like the strings of a harp. Further out toward the periphery, the piercing wail of a trumpet can be heard. I’ve seen him before: he’s a regular feature at the market, always at its furthest edge, playing to whomever stops to hear his interpretation of “La Cucaracha.”
I pause at a tent selling pickles and sauerkraut. I read the sign.
“I’ll have one of those pickles on a stick,” I announce. And then on a whim, “And one of the probiotic brine shots, too,” which I learn are shots of leftover brine used in their sauerkraut. The flavor I’ve selected is “spicy garlic.”
“So is there anything I should chase this with?” I ask.
“Well… it’s not that kind of a shot,” the vendor says. “So no, not really.”
“I guess that’s what the pickle’s for?”
“Ah, yeah, sure,” she says. “That’s what the pickle’s for.”
She places a large pickle, impaled on a skewer, into a wax paper bag and hands it to me. I take my pickle and brine-shot and continue.
I slam the shot of brine which is, as expected, both spicy and garlicky. I instantly feel my sinuses clear. This must be the probiotics working, I think, wondering what probiotics actually do.
Later I try a sample of fuji apple on a toothpick from a local vender.
“Woah,” I say. “That’s a really good apple.”
“Well,” Jenny says, “Most apples you buy in the supermarket are picked prematurely and allowed to ripen in-transit. These apples were fully ripened on the tree.”
Right on, I think.
By now our shopping bags are laden with purchases: chipotle cheese curds, green garlic, olive ciabatta bread and a bottle of chocolate-flavored vodka from New Deal Distillery.
We exit through the opposite side of the quad. Behind us we hear the dulcet tones of a trumpet soaring over everything, playing the same musical phrase he’d been playing an hour ago.
“There’s that trumpet again,” I say.
“Yup,” Jenny says, “He’s here every week.”
And he would be here next week too, and the week after that.
The market is, after all, a year-round affair.