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Farmers market ripens in Overlook

Kaiser Permanente will sponsor weekly North Portland event

After a short-lived attempt to host a community-based farmers market several years ago, North Portland is about to try again.

This time, organizers and residents think, it will be ripe for the taking.

Kaiser Permanente will sponsor the Overlook farmers market beginning in May at its Interstate campus, 3500 N. Interstate Ave.

The 30- to 35-stall market will be held on a weekday, so it won't compete with Saturday markets in the city. And it will focus on locally grown produce with an emphasis on community wellness Ñ the benefits of walking around the neighborhood and cooking nutritious meals, for example.

Residents are brimming with delight, calling the much-needed amenity Ñ right off the new Interstate MAX line Ñ a perfect fit for the area.

'My wife and I are big fans of the farmers market at PSU,' said Tom Kilbane, an Overlook resident with two young children. 'We go every week to have breakfast. And at the Thursday evening market at the Ecotrust parking lot (Northwest 10th Avenue between Irving and Johnson streets), we mostly get vegetables.'

Both are within a couple of miles of his home, Kilbane said, 'but having one here in the neighborhood will be great. We'll be able to walk. And it'll be nice to be able to get together with neighbors in that setting.'

Kaiser sponsors farmers markets in California and Hawaii, but this will be the first in Oregon. The idea is to assist its startup financially and administratively and have the market support itself with its revenue over time.

Kaiser's community benefits manager, Nancy Stevens, got the idea rolling last summer after a company conference call about farmers markets in the region.

'I thought ,'Wow, what a fantastic idea,' ' she said. 'It's just so aligned with a lot we're doing now with (disease) prevention and childhood obesity. It's a real positive way to walk our talk.'

From there, Stevens said, the market idea quickly picked up momentum. She invited residents to a series of meetings that soon grew to include about 30 active volunteers, many of whom will serve on the citizen advisory committee for the market as it progresses.

'Most of the time when you're working with groups, you've got to kind of push them along,' she said. 'I'm trying to catch up with them.'

Area's demographics change

Portsmouth neighborhood resident Patt Opdyke knows the benefits of a farmers market firsthand. In 1999, she obtained a few small grants and organized a small group of volunteers who ran the Peninsula People's Farmer's Market for just over two years, every Sunday afternoon.

'It became a place where you saw people when you were walking around,' she said. 'We didn't Ñ and we don't now Ñ have any community gathering places where you can get to know folks who aren't your direct neighbors.'

That market closed in mid-2001 because crowds dwindled and farmers began backing out. Opdyke thinks the Overlook market will fare better because it's closer to a population base, including the hospital's 1,200 employees and members and others who work in the neighborhood.

It's also accessible by light rail, and more people with disposable income have moved into the area in the last few years, she said.

Portsmouth resident Scott Jensen echoed her thoughts. 'I think the demographics have changed,' he said. 'The people that probably can afford to take the time to go to a farmers market are here now.'

The Overlook market is slated to open May 18 and run through Sept. 28, most likely on Wednesday afternoons. Organizers are getting the word out to local farmers in hopes of attracting vendors from North Portland as well as the region. A market manager will be hired next month.

The new energy will help create a sense of place for the community, said Tom Griffin-Valade, director of North Portland Neighborhood Services.

'Overlook is an incredibly hoppin' place right now,' he said. 'I think it will be a much-needed boost in terms of some of the options people have for food. It's just very limited now in North Portland. É Between the community putting their back into it and Kaiser putting resources into it, it's going to be successful.'

Markets jump from 34 to 66

Suzanne Briggs, who helped found the Hollywood Farmers Market seven years ago, said there's potential for a similar farmers market at Kaiser's Sunnyside campus in outer Southeast Portland.

She said that while there were 34 farmers markets in the state four years ago, now there are 66. And they're increasing by popular demand.

'There's very strong interest from the citizens of Portland wanting to know where their food comes from and make a conscious decision about where their dollars are spent, especially with fruits and vegetables,' she said.

The wave of the future, in fact, could be neighborhoods that include permanent sites for farmers markets. Briggs said the Portland/Multnomah County Food Policy Council Ñ an 11-person committee that weighs in on policies regarding local food issues Ñ is looking at planning neighborhoods around civic plazas, basically 'how we plan food into our community at that strategic planning level, as opposed to an afterthought,' she said.