Hours after a morning rain stopped falling and the gravel and grass dried in an empty lot along Mountain View Drive, colors sprouted. Aida Ramos began hanging vibrant Ecuadorian alpaca wool sweaters and other garments she made. Hmong families set up tables and displayed their leafy greens. Palmer farmer Bob Shumaker held a fist full of crisp, orange Nantes carrots and purple kohlrabi.
The Mountain View Farmers Market captures just a small share in the growing enthusiasm Anchorage has for outdoor markets. But as its host, Anchorage Community Land Trust aims to offer something more localized.
"We want to showcase (the) Mountain View neighborhood. That is part of our mission as a nonprofit," said market manager Caitlin Taylor, a seasonal Land Trust employee.
The market is in its first year, but at the start of its sixth event, organizers were pleased. Each week brings more visitors, more sales and more inquiries from potential sellers.
"Every time we have a market, there's always people who stop by at our booth here, and they're like 'How can we get involved with this? How can we have a booth?' And that's just great," Taylor said.
Now, the market, held Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. through August 25, has taken on characteristics that make it distinct from others held elsewhere in the city. In addition to the veggies that are common to most, shoppers might find some items that are more culturally specific.
"I love this one because they always have my mustard greens and my collard greens," said Dorothy Gibbs, who said she sometimes cooks the vegetables with oxtail in her southern cuisine.
Soledad Lesacas and her husband, Manuel Bautista, offered solanum nigrum leaves, which have medicinal uses, they said. The couple moved to Anchorage from Oaxaca, Mexico, 15 years ago and now live and garden on Government Hill. At the other end of their table they displayed squash blossoms. That's a key ingredient to ratones, they explained, a dish in which the flowers are stuffed with cheese, then dipped in egg and flour, then fried. The end result resembles a mouse, the stem like a tail, hence its Spanish name.
Across the lot, the Fresh International Gardens folks displayed an eye-catching pile of radishes, bulbs of pink in various hues. The program, which has roots in the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services of Catholic Social Services, aims to help new residents translate farming knowledge into gardening yield. They grow at the McPhee Community Garden on Mountain View's northern edge. Earnings from sales at the market go directly to its participants. They have 20 gardeners this year.
One of them, Darforoza Mukmusaba, came to Anchorage four months ago from Congo. While she packed Ziploc bags of salad greens that included nasturtium flowers, Chandra Subba of Bhutan made sales at the front of the table. A six-year participant in the program, Subba said she now also operates a stand of her own at the Muldoon Farmers Market.
Taylor, the market manager, said the event has made an extra effort to be inviting to shoppers and sellers. Vendor fees are kept low: $10 per day for produce sellers and $15 for other types of stands.
That works for Anna Wedemeier, who makes jewelry from jade and other stones. She said she paid $95 to set up at craft table at another market in years past.
"This one's a little more cost-effective for me," Wedemeier said with a laugh.
It's cheap enough that even a 13-year-old entrepreneur can give it a go. Kaele Anderson makes wooden swords and fleece capes, and sold them at a stand with help from his mother, Debbie Even.
"I started making swords because I'm trying to buy an RC car," he said, referring to a remote control 4×4 he has his eye on. If he made just one sale, it would cover the cost of setting up shop for the day.
As of two weeks ago, the market accepts EBT, an electronic benefits transfer system that allows government assistance programs to be used to pay for products. That accommodates the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for low-income Alaskans.
"We've had several EBT customers come up and be enthusiastic, beyond enthusiastic, about having this here and being able to come buy fresh local produce," Taylor said.
The large lot that the market sits in means it has some room to grow. It might need it.
About halfway through its first summer season, the Mountain View Farmers Market has been a bumper crop. What started with just seven vendors last month now hosts 20 food trucks, produce stands and other vendors.