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Farmers get off tractors, head to town

Central city's farmers market has come a long way since 1992
by: STEVEN McALPIN, In one of the city’s rites of spring, 250-some vendors, such as Alyssa Rubenstein of Groundwork Organics, get set to pick and promote their produce at the Portland Farmers Market, which opens this week.

Like any major production, the Portland Farmers Market holds a dress rehearsal before the grand debut.

The run-through, held Saturday, March 31, a week before opening morning, was the culmination of several weeks of nonstop work for the the full-time market staff, according to manager Hallie Mittleman.

She says they're now as ready as they'll ever be for their big day, Saturday, April 7.

Later in the season, the Portland Farmers Market opens versions of its show at three satellite locations: Wednesdays in the South Park Blocks between Southwest Salmon and Main streets (opening 10 a.m. May 2), and Thursdays at the Eastbank Market at Southeast Salmon Street and 20th Avenue (3:30 p.m. May 17) and in the Pearl District at the Ecotrust building (3:30 p.m. June 7).

However, the flagship market on the park blocks around Portland State University opens first and attracts the largest crowds.

The market's executive director, Dianne Stefani-Ruff, calls it a rite of spring, and Portlanders tend to show up for it. Last year, market patrons numbered about 20,000 a week.

It's been a steady climb from 1992 when just 13 vendors appeared at the first Portland Farmers Market, then held in Albers Mill. The market, which then and now receives no government funding, has grown to include more than 250 purveyors of locally produced goods and last year topped $5 million in sales.

Early crops still make a feast

Oregon produce peaks in early summer, but Easter weekend shoppers will find plenty of young spring salad greens, artichokes, beets, leafy greens like kale, and wild mushrooms.

Winter Green Farm in Noti is a great example of a longtime market vendor. The two-family farm uses biodynamic farming methods like crop rotation that are certified organic.

In 2002 it won Oregon Tilth's Producer of the Year award. It grows a mix of herbs, vegetables, hay (for its free-range cattle), berries and small fruit.

Besides hawking wares at the Portland Farmers Market, it sells farm shares in the form of weekly produce boxes that can be picked up or delivered on a subscription basis.

Winter Green maintains a close connection to a local food bank to which it donates thousands of pounds of produce.

The farm also hosts elementary school students interested in learning about agriculture.

Like Winter Green Farm, many of the 250 or so Portland Farmers Market vendors are familiar faces.

As the market takes on a more 'foodie' feel the number of artisan bakeries and vendors of specialty cheese, fish and meat has increased.

There also is a strong contingent of nonedible plant growers. Among this season's new sellers, Mittleman is especially excited about Maple Valley Nursery, growers of woody ornamentals like Japanese maples.

She's also glad to have added the Smokery, producers of artisan smoked wild salmon, and Two Tarts Bakery, specializing in miniature cookies.

Gardeners power up season

A special market attraction for April is the selection of starts and bedding plants for home gardeners.

Volunteers will help shoppers plant their flower, herb and veggie starts into easy-to-transport container gardens.

All month, the market will host weekly presentations on gardening topics at 10 a.m. on the main stage.

Up first is Heather Flores, author of 'Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community.

Throughout the season, the Portland Farmers Market continues popular programs like Chef in the Market, for which the captains of restaurants like Park Kitchen, Siam Society and Lovely Hula Hands demonstrate their techniques and hand out samples.

Weekly entertainment and kids activities, including a special Earth Day celebration April 21, also are on tap.

Bring your own cloth bag, or buy one there. This year's Chinook Book has a $5 coupon to use toward an official Portland Farmers Market cotton tote.

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Portland Farmers Market

Where: South Park Blocks between Southwest Harrison and Montgomery streets

When: 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 7-Dec. 22

More: 503-241-0032, www.portlandfarmersmarket.org