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Anchorage farmer's markets get into full swing

Rob Kinneen
Produce at the Sears Mall farmer's market, May 9, 2012.
Rob Kinneen photo
Roger VanderWeele tilling his family's farm in Palmer, Alaska on Wednesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Tomato plants at the 15th Ave & Cordova St Farmer's Market, May 12, 2012.
Rob Kinneen photo
Jams at the Sears Mall farmer's market, May 9, 2012.
Rob Kinneen photo
Prince William Sound spot shrimp at the 15th Ave & Cordova St Farmer's Market on May 12, 2012.
Rob Kinneen photo
The Sears Mall farmer's market, May 9, 2012.
Rob Kinneen photo
A crew from Vanderweele Farm harvests carrots near Palmer in 2009.
Stephen Nowers photo
Roger VanderWeele tilling his family's farm in Palmer, Alaska on Wednesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Pre-picked onions and garlic, for those that don't want to get their hands dirty at Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm. August 17, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Ben VanderWeele holding a lettuce start at his family's farm in Palmer, Alaska on Wednesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo

It’s that time of year -- The month of May means Farmers Markets are back on the scene in Alaska’s largest city, ramping up for a new season.

This week, and every Saturday until late October, the Spenard Farmers Market is open, located in the parking lot of Chilkoot Charlie’s. It features farmers, crafts, food vendors, music and crafts for the kids, and is always a great time. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Be there!

South Anchorage Market started two weeks ago with beautiful plant starters, hand crafted breads and more. Check out the weekly newsletter on their website, and keep an ear to the ground -- the best strawberries around are going to be showing up soon. Well, OK, maybe not until June, but they’re seriously worth the wait. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays at the Subway/Cellular One Sports Centre at Old Seward and O’Malley. Stay tuned for the Wednesday market in July.

The Anchorage Farmers Market on 15th and Cordova, in the Central Lutheran Church, is in its third week. The Persistent Farmer is selling Dahlia starts and Matanuska Creamery goods. Thanks to Fee’s Custom Seafoods, there are also fresh Prince William Sound spot prawns available as well. We cooked up three-quarters of a pound of spots last weekend, saving the last bit for Mother’s Day. Dee-lish, and nothing compares to the sweet, briny perfection that is a spot prawn.

A couple of farmers that never went away, Duane Clark and Alex Davis, celebrated their 104th consecutive week of holding the market on May 9 -- that’s two years straight, ladies and gentlemen. No small feat in a heavily seasonal market like Alaska. 

The Center Market is now open two days a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, outside in the parking lot facing Benson, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I spoke with Alex Davis, of AD Farms, about his market. 

“The center market attracts customers that are interested in knowing their farmer…getting to know who is raising their food,” he said.

Alex grew up in Michigan and got his first taste of his future profession while working on a Christmas tree farm. Moving to Alaska, he married into a farming family and helped out with growing and selling over the years. In 2003, he bought into the family business.

As an organic farmer, his produce cycle typically starts to pick up a little later, which means he continues to sell after the main market season had ended. This led Alex to special orders with pick-up points, and eventually, demand grew. Over the years, he has added fresh berries -- or jams and jellies in the winter -- and he is now selling 50 head of naturally-raised pork along with various poultry and 83 dozen eggs a week. When Duane came on the scene, they added naturally raised beef, whole chickens and he procures seafood as well.

A rotating cast of other vendors have been added, including Northern Light Mushrooms, offering cultivated shiitake and oyster mushrooms from Southcentral Alaska; Matanuska Creamery, with fresh ice cream, butters and cheeses; Capriccio Specialties, featuring dried quality spices, fruits and fresh wild-picked produce seasonally; Rempel Farms, and others. 

Plans for the future include celebrating a one-year anniversary at their current location, with no plans of relocating any time soon. 

 “We are really happy at this location, the mall management is very supportive and our customers love it,” Alex said.

Alex is playing with the idea of hydroponic lettuces for the fall, winter and spring to offset the lack of fresh greens in Alaska outside of the summer months.

They are also looking for other like-minded purveyors to enhance the market with niche items, like Bison or Reindeer, adding value to the market for customers without adding competition to the current vendors.

Word on the street is they are talking to Alaska Sprouts, a local provider of tofu, mung sprouts and seriously delicious onion sprouts --seriously, delicious oniony flavor with a spike of heat at the finish. Not your average alfalfa sprout!

Long story short, there are a multitude of great markets around town to check out for great produce, great food and entertainment. We will see you at your local market!

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Rob Kinneen is an Alaska chef who emphasizes sustainable, local food choices. Trained in New York, he has served as a chef at several prestigious Alaska restaurants including Orso, Seven Glaciers and the Crow's Nest. Together with his wife, Carolyn, they started Fresh49, which produces webisodes exploring local and traditional Alaska Native food options.