field trip: PSU Farmers Market

basket of PSU Farmers Market produce, October 5, 2013

Fall's here. And though it used to be my favorite season, with the best, most romantic clothes and settings—tall boots, long scarves, pretty men in plaid, falling gold and scarlet leaves, crisp walks, fat pumpkins—since moving to the Northwest, it now just makes me want to hide under the covers and gorge on chocolate, anticipating all the months ahead (eight to be exact), of days like today: gray, chill, and rainy. Plus, this is now my second head cold in a month, thanks to the kids at school (whom I love and hate equally), despite vitamins, despite hand sanitizer, despite lots of sleep and vegetables. I was even all scheduled for a flu shot today when I woke up realizing I was sick and the immunization would have to wait. Boo!

I do have recent thrifting finds and more home décor projects to share, but for various reasons, those posts are on hold, too. So what's left to talk about? How about the farmers market? This morning, I just finished using the last of the half-pound shitake mushroom bag bought at a PSU Farmers Market mushroom booth a few weeks ago for $5. Though a bit shriveled, they still served their purpose in a nutrient-boosted miso soup made to help combat this head cold—that and hours of afternoon napping on the sofa with my cat on my lap, listening to French café jazz on low in the background.

I've had this review post written for a month and a half, awaiting return trips to collect photos. I still lack photos, but up it's going, anyway. You'll just have to head over to the South Park Blocks some Saturday morning and see the sights for yourself. I'm usually too busy dodging shoppers or talking to friends to take pictures myself, hence the measly shots of the backs of people and booths. (Sorry.) So I'm including some gratuitous summer flower shots off my phone camera to compensate.

backs of PSU Farmers Market booths, September 7, 2013

In early August, I finally made it to the PSU Farmers Market for the first time after meeting a friend for coffee. Her two-and-a-half-year-old was dancing (aka running back and forth) for us on a small platform to the beat of a jazz group nearby. (Other folk, alternative, and solo-drummer types were also strewn up and down the park.) After my friends left, I went in search of kale, walking the whole circuit about three times, scanning prices and checking out the offerings, ignoring the pricey prepared-food stands, many of which had long lines, it being lunchtime.

PSU Farmers Market, September 7, 2013

A few things stood out. It's certainly the biggest and noisiest market in town, crowded and jostling. One does a lot of dodging, and foot traffic tends to move in one direction, as if emulating all the one-way streets downtown. At this city-center market, a person tends to feel like a sheep being herded. Baaaa. But there's a lively energy, great for people watching. It felt as if everyone in town were here, see and be seen. This is the market to dress up for.

My friends had joked that carrying one of those round, often colorful, woven African baskets with the leather handles is a requirement for attendance at the PSU market, and I saw plenty. I actually already own one (seen in an old post here), though mine I got on deep sale out on Sauvie Island a couple years ago at a large farm stand, so I'll fit right in. It has a seat of honor on top of the fridge since my move, ready for Saturday mornings. But canvas bags also work just fine.

One great thing about the PSU Market is that it's open most of the year, from mid-March through mid-December, unlike all the other neighborhood farmers markets that open in early May and close in late October. What's on offer? Seasonal produce, animal products, baked goods, and flowers, of course!

June hydrangeas, Brooklyn neighborhood, Portland

Though the cheapest small bunch of flowers is $5, most bunches run from $15-20 and they're not huge ones like I've seen at farmers markets farther out. I definitely saw more $15-20 flowers than $5-10 ones. The cheaper flowers tend to be bunches of the same flower type, but those are my favorite arrangements anyway. One stand was selling a small posy of cultivated sweet peas in various shades for $5 each, and I smiled to myself thinking of all the hot-pink wild sweet peas I glean all summer for free.

gleaned June sweet peas

Of note, at least to self, at the bee products stand, a single pair of beeswax tapers was selling for $14 (!), when occasionally I can find a whole plastic-wrapped bundle of like-new beeswax tapers, their wicks still uncut and some even with their local hand-stamped tags, for just a few dollars at Goodwill. Such tapers make good gifts since the best gifts tend to be not decorative household objects or clothes which the giver can get horribly wrong but those that can be used up in temporary appreciation, things that people don't tend to buy for themselves but enjoy having as a special treat, like local handcrafted candles, natural soaps, or hand-dipped chocolates. The farmers market is perfect for such things, not cheap for regular personal use but good for gifts and splurges. (Myself, I'd still rather save money and wait to thrift such things when I come across them.)

local downtown Portland flora, July 2013

As for the kale, prices ranged from $2-3 a bunch, some organic, some not. I bought three bunches of curly kale for $5 at one stand and one hefty zucchini for 50 cents at a nearby stand. To get the best prices, walk around a while before buying, feel things out. Berries were selling for $3 a pint in August, but I'd been getting 16-ounce boxes of local blueberries at the grocery store for $5-6, so I skipped the market fruit. If you're flush, you can also buy duck eggs, salmon, goat cheese, fresh artisan breads and pastries—all the usual specialty bobo items most people can't afford to eat regularly (if at all).

orange cherry tomatoes & basil via PSU Farmers Market, September 2013

But the best thing to me about the PSU Farmers Market is that it's close and convenient, about eight blocks from my apartment, a quick walk or streetcar ride. At least the market will keep me in local squash, kale, pears, and apples all through fall up to the edge of winter, at which point I'll have to hit up the Shemanski Park Winter Market, which will be even closer, just four short blocks away. ¡Viva local produce and compact urban living!

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