U-District Farmers Market fans’ pet dogs probably always wondered why their owners came home Saturday mornings smelling like kale and sausage and talking about guitar players singing annoying 70s-era songs, and why they –– dogs, not songs, alas–– were always left behind. For the last two Saturdays, and all Saturdays forthcoming, the dogs are finally getting a chance to find out, and their owners are finding a surprise of their own: The market, which for about two decades was in the parking lot at the corner of 50th and University Way NE (the Ave), a space where dogs lucky enough to come close had to wait outside the gates and watch their owners trod around a square of booths within, has now taken over the full street on the Ave between 50th and 52nd. Vendor booths face a single wide aisle for market-goers and, yes, their dogs.
The change comes as the city prepares to develop the former parking lot into a park, and it may be serendipitous. To close a street for an event is to give that event a festive air. I’ve always liked that the Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays takes over a street, although unlike at the new U-District market, the Ballard stands are in the middle of the street and market-goers have to circle around them. I set out to see how vendors and visitors feel about the new U-District layout.
I was not able to get any feedback from dogs, although I couldn’t help thinking about how over at the Ballard market, David and Tim and Gene from Wilson Fish spoil passing dogs (and people) with bits of top-quality smoked salmon, and the U-District dogs aren’t yet quite so lucky. But if the dogs were staying quiet (and well-behaved), most farmers, vendors, and market-goers were forthcoming with opinions.
“Brilliant. We love it. It’s quieter,” said George Page, of Sea Breeze Farm. Becky, a customer at his stand, thought there was a street fair at first, and was happy to realize it was the market, even if she was a bit disoriented. “I’m so used to my pattern,” she admitted. “I realized I didn’t actually know who my egg person was; I just knew her by the spot she was in.” George set to work helping her identify the egg vendor in question.
Stina Booth of Booth Canyon Orchard was also happy with the change. “I think it’s great,” she said. “I feel like I’m seeing a lot of new faces. Logistically [for the vendors], driving in and driving out is much easier than in the parking lot because it’s a one-way traffic flow now.” For the market-goers, she added, “Everyone walks by everyone, so there are no dead-end corners. And there’s no car noise.”
Some of the vendors’ booths are larger or look larger than they used to be. A woman browsing winter squash at the Mair Farm-Taki stand commented to her friend, “This is so much more spacious than their old space.” A few people noted that the new layout offers very few corner stands, since the booths are all in a row with just a few walkways for an entrance to the food truck area and another to the parking lot.
I approached John Huschle of Nature’s Last Stand, who was preparing one of his new handmade pork sausage sandwiches for a customer, and calculating how long the sausage would take to grill. “Have you heard of the slow food movement?” he asked her. “Well, uh, you’re about to find out how slow food can be.” She didn’t seem to mind.
I asked what he thought of the market layout. “If the customers like it, then we like it, and everyone says they like it,” he said, adding, “It’s an important thing when they shut a street down.” He pointed out that we’ll know more in the summer season, when the market is more crowded.
“Although when I look at that parking lot,” he admitted, “I have a sense of nostalgia.” I felt it too. The U-District market was my first farmers market as an adult, where I got to know regional farmers and where I first bought things I’d never cooked, like fennel and fava beans. It’s easy to get sentimental.
Kurt Tonnemaker, of Tonnemaker Farms, was practical. “It’s a lot more visible,” he said, “and people find new vendors because they’re searching for the ones they know. It’s also a little more open in appearance because it’s open ended.”
Security guards standing at either end of the market have a unique view on the interest or confusion of passersby. Brian Delfir, a security officer at the north end of the market said, “People are getting used to it. Some people have asked if this is a permanent thing, and some have suggested that maybe there could be signs about the change in traffic. But overall, it’s been positive.”
Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch was satisfied. “I have a lot of customers who love that they can finally bring their dogs here,” she said.
“And,” she added, “I finally get to see their dogs.”
A view from above:
A street view:
Olsen Farms decorations on display for passersby:
Mike Verdi of Whistling Train Farm holds up a Halloween decoration and/or dietary recommendation:
John Huschle displays the new sandwich: