Although the calendar says it's more than a month late, spring is finally upon us. The snow is melting and staying that way, and Alaskans are basking in the longer days and vowing never to fall for the false starts they fell for this year (and every year before).
But we're not to summer yet. Green things are only just starting to come back to us. Luckily, you can assuage your want of green growing things by visiting one of Anchorage's several farmers markets. If you love great food, the recommendation goes doubly so for you.
There has been a renaissance in recent years for local farmers markets, and Alaska has been no exception. The momentum of the original few markets has grown into a community with more variety than ever before. Here's a rundown markets in Anchorage this year.
Spenard Farmers Market
Hours: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 28
Location: 2555 Spenard Road
Run entirely by volunteers, the Spenard Farmers Market's fourth season plays host not only to local farmers, but also to community groups, food trucks and live entertainment.
For volunteer Cindy Shake, the makeup of the market underpins her aspirations for the 2013 season.
"It continues to surprise us that so many people still have not visited a local farmers market in Anchorage," Shake wrote in an email. "The mission of the Spenard Farmers Market goes beyond wanting to bring local fresh, nutritious food to more people -- we are striving to strengthen our community while stimulating our local economy."
The market participates in numerous fundraising campaigns for the city and state and promotes young farmers and entrepreneurs with what organizers call Blooming Youth Booths, where young people can sell handcrafted or grown items. Vendors are also selected under strict guidelines that promote investment in the community.
"We work hard to provide a mix of quality vendors each week that will always include something fresh, cooked, grown, crafted with a lot of local culture sprinkled in," Shake wrote. "The beginning of the season we see a wide variety of plant starts, handcrafted soaps, seeds, freshly baked organic bread, beautiful and unique jewelry, canned jams and jellies, honey, wool socks and knitted items, oils and vinegars. And as the growing season warms you will start to see piles of produce weighing down vendor tables."
The schedule is packed this season, so be sure to visit spenardfarmersmarket.org for a schedule of performers and special events.
The Center Market
Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays
Location: 600 E. Northern Lights Blvd., The Mall at Sears
"For The Center Market, summer is just another season we can vend," wrote Alex Davis of A.D. Farm, a manager for the indoor market. "This month we'll be celebrating 156 weeks straight of marketing in Anchorage, as well as 104 weeks straight at the Sears mall."
The Center Market is (so far) Anchorage's only year-round market, snuggled indoors at the Sears mall. During the summer, starting in July, the market moves outside to the Sears parking lot, though Davis said he hopes to keep the market mostly inside year-round to protect marketgoers from temperamental weather.
The Center Market has remarkable variety year-round -- farmers bring in fish and fowl, fresh vegetables, mushrooms, honey, milk and cheeses, and several kinds of artisan meats.
"I personally took in last week fresh duck and chicken eggs -- about 70 dozen -- Delta barley flour and barley cereal. My business partner brings in Alaska grass-fed beef, seafood, Alaska honey and Cranberry Ridge Farm goat cheese," Davis wrote. "We work with Alaska Sprouts; last week we had about 60 heads of lettuce from them, as well as tofu and many more types of micro greens."
Other vendors like Earthworks Farm bring hand lotion made from beeswax; Capriccio Specialties and many others attend throughout the entire year.
Anchorage Farmers Market
Hours: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays through mid-October
Location: 15th Avenue and Cordova Street
The Anchorage Farmers Market is a concentrated version of the larger markets in town. With only about a dozen vendors, this small market covers the Fairview neighborhood between the downtown and Midtown markets.
Though it had to delay its opening a week due to the late spring, Sarah Bean of Arctic Organics is expecting a full season.
"We'll be bringing in mostly plants, bedding plants and hardy Alaska tomato plants," Bean said. "But what we mostly will have in the beginning is vegetable starts. We'll also have fertilizer blends, and we'll probably bring apple trees later in the season."
Other vendors will bring various flowers, and there will be fresh bread and other delights from Turkey Red Café in Palmer. Groups like Vanderweele Farms will come in a week or two once the early crops mature, and there will also be fresh seafood from Prince William Sound.
"Some of our vendors bring in season-defying produce in the spring," Bean said. "Other vendors bring really beautiful flowers, but because of the late start, it will be mostly a gardener's market in the beginning."
And as in seasons past, Bean said the market would be accepting EBT Food Assistance and Quest cards, as well as WIC vouchers and senior coupons.
"It's one of those times where the government has actually got it right," Bean said. "So now the people who wouldn't normally be able to can partake of really healthy food. It definitely improves the consumer's health, but it's helping the farmers as well. It's the perfect double whammy."
Downtown Market & Festival
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 8
Location: Third Avenue and E Street
The Downtown Market and Festival is a hallmark of the summer season in Anchorage, especially for visitors, and this year, the market is celebrating its 21st birthday. Market manager Bill Webb said that the managing staff and the numerous vendors (attendance fluctuates between 180 to 264 vendors throughout the season) are excited to usher in another year.
To commemorate the milestone, Alaska Airlines will be giving away two sets of two tickets to any of Alaska Airlines' destinations. Shoppers can enter to win every time they visit the market during the season. As always, there will be lots of local entertainment (for a schedule, check the website) and door prizes, along with the food and products you've come to expect.
Hours:9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, June 26-Oct. 2
Location:3101 Penland Parkway, Northway Mall
While the Northway Market isn't scheduled to start until June 26, it's run by the same organizers as the Downtown Market and Festival. Look for the Northway Mall-based market to offer Alaska-grown fruits and vegetables without the bustle of downtown.
South Anchorage Farmers Market
Hours: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays through October, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, July 10-Sept. 25
Location: Old Seward Highway and O'Malley Road on Saturdays, 700 E. Dimond Blvd. on Wednesdays
Arthur Keyes of Glacier Valley Farms said that the South Anchorage Farmers Market, which kicked off its eighth seasons Saturday at the Subway Sports Center, has the largest selection of early-season Alaska-caught fish and seafood and a formidable selection of decorative and edible hanging baskets. The Wednesday market opens in July in front of the Dimond Center Hotel.
"We'll have hanging strawberry baskets and tomato baskets, both just weeks away from bearing fruit. The Blue Poppy will be there with their flowers," Keyes said. "Matanuska Valley Meats will be there, with everything from sausages, to buffalo meat, to beef or elk. They really do a bang-up job."
Like many of the other markets, the first few weeks may be focused on gardeners, with vegetable and flower starts, but Keyes expects some amazing produce to be ready soon, including English cucumbers.
Last season was also the first year the South Anchorage market had an EBT exchange machine -- which allows visitors to use their EBT cards or Visa cards to purchase wooden tokens that could be used at the booths in lieu of cash.
For Keyes, this new access is especially important.
"People are taking more responsibility for their food and what they eat. It's all a big circle -- food security, your health, the economy," he said. "Someone said to me, 'If you eat off the dollar menu, you're not going to feel like a million bucks.' And it's true! So we're offering people a choice -- you don't have to eat off of the dollar menu anymore."
Farmers market recipes
Rocket (Arugula) Pesto
The idea was suggested by Sarah Bean from Arctic Organics, but the recipe is actually my own. Arugula is a great early green that makes a really fresh, peppery pesto.
- 3 ounces washed and dried arugula leaves
- 1 large clove garlic
- 2 tablespoons pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspon cracked black pepper
- 1-2 teaspoons warm water
Directions: In a food processor, blitz the arugula, garlic, cheese, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper until it's a thick, chunky paste. Then, in a steady stream, add in the olive oil until smooth. Add two teaspoons or so of warm water to thin it out (optional, though recommended). This is great tossed with fresh pasta (I prefer tagliatelle) or as the base sauce on a pizza.
From Cindy Shake at the Spenard Farmers Market:
Hale to Kale, Easy-Bake Spenard Kale Chips
- 1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
- 3 tablespoons of seasoned olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt sprinkled over baked "chips"
- Pinch of ground cayenne pepper (optional)
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the ribs from kale leaves and tear into bite-size pieces. Spread on baking sheet and toss with your favorite dipping oil. Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes.
Salmon Pita-Spenards To-Go
- 2 (7 1/4 ounce) canned summer Alaska salmon, drained (smoked is the best)
- 2 tablespoons tartar sauce
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 teaspoon dill
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch paprika
- 3 pita breads
- 6 butter lettuce leaves
- 1 cucumber, sliced
- 1 cup fresh Alaska sprouts
Directions: In a bowl, stir together salmon, mayo, sour cream, dill, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and paprika. Cut each pita in half and pop into a toaster oven until golden brown. Line with lettuce and cucumber, then stuff with salmon mixture and top with fresh sprouts. Wrap in paper while enjoying a walk on the Coastal Trail!
From the South Anchorage Farmers Market website:
Arthur Keyes advised me to use recipes from their site -- apparently they regularly come up with new ones to correspond with what's in season.
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (can be low-fat or fat-free)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 dash hot pepper sauce
- 2 pounds halibut fillets (leave the skins on to make it easier to move from baking dish to plate, but skinless works just fine)
Directions: Preheat broiler on high. Grease a baking dish. In a bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese, butter, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onions, salt and hot pepper sauce. Arrange the halibut fillets in the prepared baking dish. Broil halibut fillets 8-10 minutes in the oven or until easily flaked with a fork. Thicker pieces take a few extra minutes. Spread with the Parmesan cheese mixture and continue broiling 2-4 minutes or until topping is bubbly and lightly browned.