Lifestyle

Renton Farmers Market opens seventh season

Mayor Denis Law, right, tries out the new bench at the Piazza Park with Toni Nelson on Wednesday. The bench was dedicated in honor of Nelson, a driving force behind the market’s creation. - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Mayor Denis Law, right, tries out the new bench at the Piazza Park with Toni Nelson on Wednesday. The bench was dedicated in honor of Nelson, a driving force behind the market’s creation.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

As usual, the Renton Farmers Market season began with a bang — or rather, a clang. A clang of a cowbell.

Toni Nelson clanged the cowbell Tuesday afternoon in downtown’s Piazza, on the opening day of the market’s seventh season.

It was Nelson who spurred the market’s creation in 2002. She managed the market for two years. A new bench in the Piazza

was dedicated to Nelson Tuesday, for her commitment both to the market and Renton.

Now retired, Nelson was a member of Renton City Council for 20 years, most recently as council president. She also belongs to many Renton service organizations, including the Soroptomists.

Several city officials gathered at Tuesday’s market opening, including Mayor Denis Law.

“The reason we have the Farmers Market is because of Toni,” Law said to Tuesday’s crowd.

Establishing the market wasn’t that much work, Nelson said Tuesday. It only took nine months. Her response when the mayor’s office said opening the market would cost $30,000?

“Oh really? What else I got to do?”

She focused on market vendors, and other volunteers on chefs and music. And the market took off. Nelson retired from market management two years later, leaving $35,000 in the bank.

The market is now managed by new City of Renton market coordinator Stefeny Anderson and three Piazza Renton volunteers: Linda Middlebrooks, Nancy Hoben and Meri England. Piazza Renton is a volunteer group that focuses on downtown.

The market typically makes several thousand dollars a year, says Jim Medzegian, president of Piazza Renton.

But Renton Farmers Market is about more than money. It’s also about produce. And flowers, flutes, baked goods, cheese, pot stickers, phad thai, shaved ice, kettle corn, malasadas, (Hawaiian donuts) and sweet corn on the cob. These are just a sampling of the goods for sale under the blue and white canopies Tuesday.

Anderson, the market coordinator, said 37 booths were hawking wares Tuesday. She expects that number to reach the 50-booth market capacity by June 17, the third market of the year. Volunteers counted 2,200 customers. Anderson said attendance can reach 3,300. But Tuesday’s numbers were good, especially considering the wind and earlier rain.

“Yeah, it was a pretty good day,” Anderson said.

It was more than a pretty good day for John Joseph (JJ) Springer, a Piazza Renton volunteer.

“Oh, I just love it,” Springer said, face turned skyward. “Look at this. This is fantastic!”

He says the size and location of Renton Farmers Market make it one of the most entertaining markets around. The chef demonstrations (Tuesday was Renton Technical College’s Culinary Arts Program), live music (Old Time Fiddlers) and Kid’s Patch and Master Gardener clinics only add to the entertainment.

“It’s a wonderful celebration,” Springer said. “A carnival atmosphere.”

Springer is quite the entertainer himself. Kids call him “the dancing man” or “the dancing cowboy.” It’s easy to see why. Wearing a denim shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and hat, Springer twirled around the square Tuesday, in front of a cluster of onlookers seated under the white canopy.

Aside from dancing, Springer helps set up and tear down the market, as he has since 2003. He also is a customer, buying mostly vegetables for himself, as well as the occasional bouquet of flowers for his fiancee. He also shops the market for less-than-mobile seniors.

Some vendors have been with Renton Farmers Market since the start. Like Mee Vue and her husband Fue. The tables under their white canopy Tuesday were laden with buckets of flowers. Peonies, irises, lilies, bouquets and more. All grown in Enumclaw by the Renton Highlands family of six. Snap peas, green beans, peas, carrots, asparagus, rhubarb and cilantro are still to come.

The Vues also sell at Issaquah and Lake Sammamish farmers’ markets. But they like Renton’s.

“It’s pretty good,” Mee said Tuesday. “Close to home. Local.”

The Vues don’t make lots of money from the market, but Mee says they get lots of customers, mostly locals.

Market co-manager Nancy Hoben says the market draws customers from across Renton and beyond, many who stop by on their way home from work. Such as men picking up flowers for their wives.

Hoben typically buys vegetables — “As many as I can from different vendors” — and fruit.

“I buy things every week,” she says. “I really believe in buying locally grown things. My problem is not to buy too much.”

Several vendors left with too much at the end of Tuesdays will donate the food to the Salvation Army Renton Rotary Food Bank.

Like Hoben, long-time market shopper and Renton resident Betty Tong likes the market’s local aspect.

“Fresh off the farm always tastes better,” she says. “And it’s locally grown, so you want to help your own state around here. It’s hard work for them.”

Most vendors are from Washington, says market coordinator Anderson. Some are new this year. Like Trevani Truffles and Pacific Mist Tea, both of Renton.

This is also the first year for Yakima Valley Produce. Michael and Sue Ann Indorf of Yakima are full-time farmers.

“If opening day is anything like the rest of the season, yeah, we’re gonna stay,” Michael says.

If Anderson’s predictions about this market season are correct, the Indorfs should be around for some time.

“I think we’re going to have an amazing season,” Anderson says. “It’s a great meeting place. What better place to get fresh, local produce and help out farmers?”

Farmers Market

Renton Farmers Market is Tuesday at the Piazza, at Burnett Avenue and South Third Street, from 3-7 p.m. For more information, visit www.rentonfarmersmarket.com, e-mail info@rentonfarmersmarket.com or call 425-679-1502.

Emily Garland can be reached at emily.garland@reporternewspapers.com or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.

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