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Meet me at the market

Fresh produce, local food abound at area farmers' markets
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, Alan Perkins and Britt Shackelford of Big "B" Farm share a midafternoon smooch at the Tigard Farmers' Market this past Sunday.

Looking for some fresh lettuce? They've got that.

How about a pint of local blueberries? They've got that, too.

They also have handmade crafts, seasonal produce galore and homemade goodies that make mouths water.

Just who are 'they'? The vendors who populate local farmers' markets, that's who. And with a handful of these markets running from Beaverton to Sherwood, people have more opportunity than ever to partake in the diverse offerings.

Trish Stormont, manager of the Tigard Area Farmers' Market, said she typically gets between 2,000 and 2,400 walking through the Sunday market.

With 50 vendors and space for close to 20 more, Stormont said the market has room to grow but is still manageable enough to give visitors a way to catch up with their neighbors, much like a community watering hole.

'I want the place to be where you can go to find out about what's going on,' she said. 'I think that aspect of community is a pretty important part of the market.'

Though the Tigard market moved to a new location at Washington Square Too this year, Stormont said the numbers have remained steady with last year's. The number of vendors has increased, however, with some new additions that have proven to be invaluable.

One of these new vendors is Zoe Buckley, who, according to both Stormont and Hillsboro's market manager Patrick T. Rossetti, makes the best cheesecake.

'I think that I pay a lot of attention. It starts with the crust. My crust is as important as the cheesecake,' said Buckley, who owns and operates Zoe Anne's Cheesecakes. 'Also, I don't hold back with the best ingredients. I'm always thinking of flavor enhancers.'

Buckley, who is a regular at the Tigard market and both of the Hillsboro markets, said she makes about 300 of her 3-inch thick cheesecakes each week. While she has developed a total of 15 varieties of cake, she said her top three sellers are coconut cream, chocolate turtle and a strawberries-and-cream New York-style cheesecake. She also makes a lemon mango cheesecake that is especially popular during the summer months.

Though this is Buckley's first year of running a business or being a vendor at farmers' markets, she said it is something she really enjoys doing.

'I love the markets,' she said. 'I'm very appreciative to Oregon and people who come out to the markets to support us.'

Some of the other highlights of the Tigard market include what Stormont refers to as 'anchor farms,' such as Country Pride Farm, Lone Elder Farm and Big 'B' Farm.

Ron Baune, owner of Rainyway Farms, is another of Tigard's regulars. His tent area features all kinds of fresh produce through the season, including beans, cucumbers and gourds, as well as 15 kinds of garlic and 31 kinds of potatoes. He said his produce is natural, much in the way people used to farm in days gone by.

'We don't grow the fancy stuff, just the good ol' basics,' Baune said.

Like Buckley, Baune also takes his goods to Hillsboro's Saturday market. Rosetti has been manager of that market, as well as the other two Hillsboro markets, since 2003; he said the best part of his job is catching up with people about their market experience.

'I hear stories from (vendors) about what they like about the markets, and I hear stories from out-of-state visitors who always compare our markets to what they have at home,' he said. 'What makes my job worth doing is at the end of a market day when a vendor comes up to me and tells me they had a wonderful day, either in sales or because of the people they met. To me that means I've been successful and have provided a good opportunity for them.'

The Cedar Mill Farmers' Market is similar to Tigard's in the sense that it breeds a more intimate atmosphere. With a regular crop of vendors that runs anywhere from two to three dozen per week, market manager Dina Gross said it is a good place to go when you want to see friends or the same selection of quality products each week.

'People have said they like to come and kids can let go of their hands and pet the dogs,' Gross said. 'It's not a big production or event.'

And then, of course, there are the Beaverton and Sherwood farmers' markets.

Boasting an average of between 90 and 100 growers, the Beaverton farmers' market is the largest agricultural-only farmers' market in the Northwest. Stormont likens the Beaverton market to something people bring out-of-town visitors to as a way of impressing them.

Sherwood's market is another Saturday production that draws a large number of visitors. Held at Veterans' Park in Old Town Sherwood, the market is a good way for community members to keep in touch while browsing through loads of locally made and grown products.

With all of these markets running in such close proximity to one another each weekend (and some during the week), there isn't really an excuse for not making it out to one of them at least once during the season. The only real decision is which one to go to.