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Local farmers markets up and running for the season

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Farmers and food assistance programs are both growing thanks to Tacoma's Farmers Markets. It's something worth singing "hi-ho, the derry-o" about because while Tacoma has four farmers markets, Stacy Carkonen, Executive Director of the Tacoma Farmers Market, said a big factor influencing when each one starts this summer is the food voucher programs for low-income residents.
Carkonen said that giving low-income seniors access to fresh, local food is a huge piece of the Eastside Farmers Market's mission, and waiting for those vouchers to come in is why Eastside opens mid-summer. All four of Tacoma's farmers markets now accept food stamp EBT cards as payment for produce as well.
"Another element of the farmers markets is the many small businesses that we incubate," said Carkonen. She listed a variety of scenarios where micro businesses got their start at one of Tacoma's farmers markets, but as brand loyalty grew, such businesses branched out to operate from a storefront or began to sell wholesale and out-grew the market.
"That's when new spots for merchants at the farmers markets open up," Carkonen said.
Merchants and business start-ups wanting to become a part of the market can download a vendor application from the Tacoma Farmers Market website. Presently, the Broadway Market is booked for the year, but south Tacoma and Eastside still have merchant spaces available.
The Broadway Market is located downtown between South 9th and 11th Streets on Broadway. It runs every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., through Oct 26.
Of all of Tacoma's markets, Broadway has the most food trucks selling ready-made meals. Broadway is also where you can buy a six-pack of Adams Honey Gal Hard Apple Cider for $15 or get six potted fennel plants for $10. There is also a variety of bakers, cheese makers, artisans and specialty food producers there.
Urban Sanctuary farm owner Chris Tran is new to the Broadway Market this year. Like most vendors, she's highly approachable and offers great tips for cooking with the kale, cabbage, beets, brussels sprouts, and various herbs that she grows and sells, such as dill. Her mini-micro urban farm is located on a quarter-acre plot near the Seatac airport.
For growing food, Tran uses all organic practices and avoids genetically modified products for fertilizing and killing weeds or insects. Her website, urbansanctuaryfarm.com, shows photos of her farm and that's also where you can sign up to tour her farm in person.
South Tacoma Farmers Market offers plenty of free parking at the MetroPark's STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St. It runs on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Sep. 10.
Melinda Ayers is new to more than just the South Tacoma Farmers Market this year. She just moved up from Los Angeles, where she was doing professional makeup on sets and making latex masks for Hollywood. A single mom of a 10-year-old, she finds that painting children's faces at the market to be much more rewarding than working in California because she said the children express so much glee about their face paint.
Farmer Ann O'Neill has been working farmers markets for eighteen years now, but she's been with the South Tacoma Farmers Market since it opened seven years ago, in what O'Neill says was a very hot bank parking lot. She likes the new location at STAR Center much better thanks to its wide open spaces.
O'Neill's farm, Cottage Gardens, is located on the Graham/Spanaway border and she and her spouse sell perennials, shade plants and house plants. It's easy to find her farm's page on Facebook.
Eastside Farmers Market, located at 1708 E. 44th St., will open on Wednesdays, from 3-7 p.m. beginning June 21 and this market lasts until Aug. 30.
According to Carkonen, the Eastside market has a new pilot program for low-income seniors that gives them the chance to buy fresh vegetables and fruits that they might otherwise not be able to afford. The Senior Farm Share program offers a $100 voucher for each senior who qualifies for the supplemented nutrition program.
While this market doesn't start until midsummer, Carkonen said that's because the senior food vouchers will not be available before then. To find this farmers market, folks will want to look for it outdoors on the east side of the large Community Health Care building.
When it opens, the Eastside Farmers Market will be selling eggs, mushrooms, local greens, and root crops, Carkonen said.
According to Carkonen, the senior farmers market nutrition program was formed from a partnership between the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Funding is thanks to a big grant from the USDA and to another $25,000 donated by Taco Time Northwest.
Tacoma General Farmers Market, 315 M.L.K. Jr Way, Tacoma, is one of the smallest farmers markets. It will happen in Tacoma General's outdoor Rose Garden. It is the last of the markets to get up and running each season and will not launch until Aug. 4, but it runs on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Sept. 8.

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