A farmers market may be opening in Northeast Anchorage next summer.
After long-swirling chatter, an earnest push is underway to set up a market near Muldoon Road, spearheaded by community council members and the office of Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. The first organizational meeting was held Thursday night at the Northeast Boys and Girls Club, and a follow-up meeting is being planned for early January.
Farmers markets have gained footholds in Spenard, South Anchorage and near downtown, but one has yet to open in Northeast Anchorage, a multicultural neighborhood with plenty of gardeners. In an interview Tuesday, Wielechowski said he and other community members want to see a market, and he decided to help organize one.
"We want it to be a place for people to gather," Wielechowski said.
Organizers are hoping to get started ahead of the holidays and the Legislative session, with a goal of launching the market next summer, said Kalyssa Maile, a legislative aide in Wielechowski's office.
Thursday's meeting, Maile said, was aimed at gauging interest and discussing what the "flavor" of the prospective market will be.
Favored for fresh local produce and vendors, Anchorage farmers markets fill niches using a variety of business models. They include Center Market in The Mall at Sears; the Northway Mall Farmers Market; the South Anchorage Farmers Market near Old Seward Highway and O'Malley Road; and the Anchorage Farmers Market at 15th Avenue and Cordova Street in the Central Lutheran Church parking lot.
Market organizers in Northeast Anchorage are especially looking at the Spenard Farmers Market, which is entering its sixth year, as a model.
"Spenard has been a huge encouragement to us," said Kristi Wood, a member of the Northeast Community Council board and chair of the council's parks committee. She also noted Spenard's efforts to establish a chamber of commerce and create a more bike-friendly business district.
A co-founder of the Spenard Farmers Market, Mark Butler, has met with Wielechowski. Butler, manager of the Federation of Community Councils, attended Thursday's meeting to talk about the formation of the Spenard market.
In a phone interview, Butler recalled how the idea of a market in Spenard rapidly gained momentum on Facebook. He and other volunteer organizers approached Chilkoot Charlie's bar and nightclub about donating parking lot space and setting a low cost of $10 for a booth space.
The market now includes 45 to 50 booths, and organizers have raised the cost of a booth space only to $20. It's a quirky mix of a street fair and a "hardcore farmers market," combining fresh produce, artists, food-to-go and places where kids can draw with chalk, Butler said.
"Building a sense of character, a theme, a reputation, that kind of thing -- that was easy in Spenard, but it could also happen in Muldoon and other places as well," Butler said.
Butler said the desire for a market in Northeast Anchorage goes hand in hand with efforts to improve walkability and pedestrian safety in the neighborhood, a key component of the East Anchorage District Plan, which was adopted Tuesday by the Anchorage Assembly.
In addition, a large number of Northeast Anchorage residents use public transportation or walk.
"It takes quite a bit of effort to take a People Mover to Spenard or South Anchorage or downtown to go to the farmers market, and then take it back home," said Assembly member Pete Petersen, who represents East Anchorage. "If you had one in Muldoon, you could just walk over."
Potential sites in the short term include Begich Middle School and the Northeast Boys and Girls Club, Wielechowski said. Wood sees a vacant parcel at the southeast corner of Muldoon and Debarr roads, next to the Muldoon Town Center, as a long-term contender. The district plan adopted Tuesday designates the parcel as parkland and sets the stage for a planning process to determine the land's eventual use.
As well as location, Wood said, the overall form of the Northeast Farmers Market is still an open question.
"It's just a blank slate," Wood said. "The question is, what does the community want to do with it?"