PSU Farmers Market. Photo: Heather Zinger

More and more Portlanders are planting a garden this year, large or small, new or well-established. But garden or no garden, anyone who enjoys putting together meals when produce is the most fresh and varied, will head to a local farmers market occasionally this summer for fruit and veggies and possibly other Oregon and Southwest Washington products to eat, drink and beautify their homes.

And unless you are shopping averse or daunted by the monsoon weather that’s had a damaging impact on both farmers and market visitor counts, a market visit is a treat in itself. What’s not to like about free samples of meat and cheese, bread, artisan chocolates, wine and beer, fresh berries, and then following your nose to a tempting lunch? Other draws are live music, cooking demonstrations and cooking classes for children and adults at some markets.

Chances are there’s at least one market near where you live or work. Portland Farmers Market, the grand-daddy of local markets lists more than 30 metro area markets on its web site. I was an early customer in 1992 when Portland Farmers Market first opened: 13 stalls in a parking lot on the edge of the not-yet-developed Pearl District. Today the market has six locations across the city, more than 250 vendors, and its largest location, along the tree-lined Park Blocks at the Portland State University campus, is considered one of the best farmers markets in the country.

What’s New at the Markets?

We’ll be offering a taste of what’s new and interesting at the local markets every month this summer. Please note: this is not a guide to every new market, program and vendor.

Portland Farmers Market at PSU

Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

What’s new at the PSU market? More space and less crowded shopping is the first thing you’ll notice. The market has expanded one block south along the Park Blocks. Also new are more than a half-dozen farmers and other food purveyors, and EverGreen, a waste reduction initiative featuring composting and recycling stations, customer education and new guidelines for vendors, including required use of compostable or recyclable food service ware and restriction of plastic bottled water sales and the use of plastic bags.

Upright Brewing. Photo: Heather Zinger

Sexton Ranches is a new meat and egg purveyor at the market. Dick Sexton, wearing the cowboy hat you might expect, drives from Haines in Eastern Oregon twice a month to sell grass-fed and grass-finished lamb and beef as well as pastured poultry and eggs from pastured hens.

Oregon Kombucha, a family-owned local business, offers samples and bottles of the increasingly popular fermented, tea-based beverage at the PSU and the Buckman locations of Portland Farmers Market, the latter formerly known as the Eastbank market. Some flavors are custom blended by local tea purveyor Tao of Tea. Also for sale are DIY kombucha kits.

Via Chicago's pepperoni pizza. Photo: Heather Zinger

Samples of wonderful French- and Belgian-inspired farmhouse ales are being poured by Upright Brewing Company. The brewery and tasting room are in the Leftbank Building close to the Rose Quarter.

Via Chicago is the market’s newest pizza purveyor, selling Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza by the slice—meat, veggie and vegan—plus a plump and pretty cannoli pastry stuffed with ricotta and garnished with pistachios and mini chocolate chips.

Petunia's Pies and Pastries' strawberries and cream cupcakes. Photo: Heather Zinger

An impressive market newcomer is Petunia’s Pies and Pastries. Owner Lisa Clark bakes cookies and beautifully garnished small pies and cupcakes that are gluten-free and vegan, and likely to appeal to anyone. Making a choice is difficult, but the triple-citrus cupcake, garnished with candied citrus peel and pastry cream, did not disappoint. You can also look for Petunia’s at the King Market and the new Pioneer Square location (opening today!).

Prana Farms. Photo © 2010 Neighborhood Notes

Portland Farmers Market at Northwest 23th Avenue

Thursdays, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.

The faces of many vendors will be familiar to people who have shopped at other local markets. New to Portland markets this year is Prana Farms, a Southwest Washington farm dedicated to permaculture and biointensive practices. Organic and heirloom vegetables are Prana’s specialty. Watch for 20 varieties of greens and 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes during the market season.

The New Leaf. Photo © 2010 Neighborhood Notes

Fairview Farm
, which sold cheese at the Montavilla and OHSU markets last year, is one of the new NW 23rd vendors, selling aged raw-milk goat cheeses with rustic natural rinds. Cheeses are made on the farm, in Dallas, near Salem. A mild caraway seed cheese from the farm won a blue ribbon from the American Dairy Goat Association last year.

In the meals-ready-to-go section of the market, The New Leaf is serving up vegan and mostly raw fare, mostly salads featuring organic, fresh and local ingredients. It will also be at the new market at Pioneer Courthouse Square and the OHSU Farmers Market.

Captured by Porches (left) and Masala (right). Photos: Heather Zinger

Hollywood Farmers Market

Saturdays, 8 a.m -- 1 p.m.

How could I resist tasting beer made by a small craft brewery called Captured by Porches? The St. Helens-based brewery is building its customer base through farmers markets this year, including Hollywood and the Interstate Farmers Market. The family business grew out of a homebrewer’s club in Southeast Portland—the quirky history is on its web site. Taste the Invasive Species IPA or one of the seasonals—all made with regionally grown, locally malted organic grain. CBP uses only returnable bottles and growlers. You can even bring your own mason jar, but there’s no beer garden for drinking at the market.

Masala, a new addition to the market’s hot food area has been a hit since it opened in May. Owner Sophie Rahman and her crew keep a rapid pace making masala dosa, a traditional South Indian breakfast crepe that’s delicious anytime of day. The dosa is made from a rice and lentil batter, then stuffed with a spicy potato mixture and topped with a coconut chutney. It’s vegan and gluten-free! Originally from Pakistan, Sophie is a longtime volunteer at the market and teaches Indian cooking classes.

Blake Van Roekel of Keuken. Photo: Heather Zinger

Slow Food Portland is partnering with the market this year on cooking demos every second Saturday of the month at 9:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. The focus is on affordable market shopping and simple meals. The June demo featured Blake Van Roekel preparing a risotto with garlic scapes, the flower stems that shoot up from the bulb and are now in season, as the star ingredient.

Sage and Sea Drinking Vinegars. Photo © 2010 Neighborhood Notes

Interstate Farmers Market

Wednesdays, 3-7 p.m.

Deb Counts-Tabor thinks she may have the only businesses making drinking vinegars in the U.S. So, when people stop at her Sea and Sage Farms booth, she explains that a drinking vinegar is a concentrated vinegar, sugar and fruit syrup that can flavor “your beverage of choice, from soda water to whiskey.” Deb says her great-aunt made the concoction when she was growing up. Most of her fruit is local; marionberry, strawberry, Meyer lemon and pear are some of the flavors.

Another market newbie is Mr. Green Beans, which specializes in one of the newer DIY niches: home coffee roasting. Trevin and Ginny Miller sell farm-direct green coffee beans from around the world sourced from producers who they say are held to the highest environmental and social standards. As DIYers, they’re all about providing the know-how needed to roast your own coffee. They’ll be offered classes soon, when they open a retail shop in July on North Mississippi Avenue.

Trevin Miller of Mr. Green Beans. Photo © 2010 Neighborhood Notes

Aichele Farms, a family-owned farm near Hermiston, started the season with strawberries, but will be bringing other berries to the market over the summer. Berries are not sprayed and the farm is in the process of starting organic certification.

New dinner options to eat at the market or take home include The Hummus Stop, with a large selection of locally made and packaged hummus, tabouli and pita breads, and Tavola Catering, offering several Mediterranean-inspired entrees.

A Word About Hunger and Token Match Programs

Despite the abundance and high quality of area farmers markets, Oregon is still considered to rank second in the nation for the number of residents experiencing food insecurity. Although many pricey items are sold at area markets, a number of markets have set up programs to help low-income shoppers purchase high quality fresh food staples. Shoppers at Portland Farmers Market's five locations last year purchased $77,000 worth of produce, meat, dairy and bread using Oregon Trail electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. Cards are swiped in a device to get tokens for market purchases. Other markets, some with help from local nonprofits and businesses, offer dollar-to-dollar matches of up to $5 or $10 for shoppers using SNAP benefits (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) or an Oregon Trail card. Program details are posted on market websites.