Togetherness and Fresh Tomatoes: How King County Farmers Markets Build Healthy Communities

It’s 8 a.m. on a summery Saturday morning in Seattle’s University District. Shops are shuttered and residents are only just waking. But where most sidewalks and streets have some semblance of temporary calm, University Way between 50th and 52nd is bustling. Along this two block stretch, canopies are being erected, stalls are being assembled, trucks are unloading farm-fresh produce, still-warm baked goods, and buckets of colorful blooms. The air is filled with the sounds of happy chatter and the smell of food being cooked. By 9 a.m. the University District Farmers Market will be open for business, and soon after that, packed with visitors. On average, a typical market day sees upwards of 6,000 shoppers. Now in it’s 30th year, that number is a testament to the importance of our local farmers markets.

Including the University District (one of the seven Neighborhood Farmers Markets aka NFM) there are 41 farmers markets in King County; each one a cornerstone of its community. The markets themselves act as village squares; places where everyone can come together to enjoy food, art, music, and each other’s company. Every Sunday during the summer season you can find the Auburn Farmers Market in Les Gove Park with over 50 vendors selling produce, flowers, honey, and other goods. In a centralized park setting, near the library and playground, this market is as much about food as it is about engagement. As Market Coordinator Amanda Valdez says, “the Auburn Farmers Market…provides a space for families and friends to get up and get active. Whether that be outside at the park, walking around the farmers market, or joining us in a game of corn hole or giant connect four every Sunday.”

In our post-lockdown world, our longing for connection is lessened by these opportunities to interact with community members, bump into a familiar face, or get to know a farmer or maker. But the beauty of farmers markets is even further reaching. We would go so far as to say they are integral in creating a healthy and sustainable society. And we’re certainly not independent in that thinking.

To celebrate the socio-cultural, economic, and environmental importance of farmers markets, the USDA recognized National Farmers Market Week (organized by the Farmers Market Coalition) in 2000. Since then, the observance each August has gained momentum, with various states, organizations, and communities joining in to highlight the contributions farmers markets make to their local economies and food systems.

Farmers Market Week has evolved into a platform not only for acknowledging the significance of these markets but also for raising awareness about sustainable agriculture practices, food security, and the benefits of consuming locally sourced foods. With all that they do, once established, markets become something to look forward to, to depend upon. As Katherine Bowry, Director of Communications for NFM, puts it, “What I think is interesting is that the farmers markets feel like they have always been here and most people can’t imagine Seattle without the markets and that says a lot about how relevant they are to our community.”

30 miles outside of Seattle, the twenty-vendor Carnation Farmers Market sets up shop each Tuesday, June through August, at Tolt-MacDonald Park. It had been operating for 14 years when the organization that had been running it ceased operations in 2019. Thanks to the hard work of passionate community members, the market persevered through leadership and location change to become a volunteer run non-profit. Operating as a farmers market in the smallest city in King County the community resilience has paid off; with a sustainable governing body and permanent home, the market can continue to provide necessary income for its farmers and healthy food for its patrons.

No matter their scale, the charm of farmers markets is invariably tied to their composition of primarily small businesses. Without the overhead costs and barriers to entry found elsewhere, they serve as incubators for small farms and budding entrepreneurs. What’s more, they offer face-to-face interactions with customers where they can ask questions, learn about processes, and offer feedback. This transparency also builds trust. By fostering these connections, farmers markets contribute to the sustainability of small businesses; nurturing a local economic ecosystem where entrepreneurs thrive while preserving the character of the community.

However, BIPOC and immigrant farmers and makers can still find it difficult to become a market vendor. The Delridge Farmers Market has been working to change that dynamic. A program of African Community Housing & Development (ACHD), which provides assistance to African diaspora and refugees, the Delridge Farmers Market is Seattle’s only BIPOC-priority market. By not charging fees, they ensure that each vendor keeps 100% of their revenue. This model has led to a vibrant market with unique offerings.

As ACHD Communications Manager Marisa Allison describes, “Our farmers specialize in culturally specific produce, our chefs delight us with delicious bites from their unique backgrounds, and our artisans bring beautiful pieces that inspire joy. Together, our vendors represent and showcase the global community we are so proud of…. the market maintains a halal standard and many of our prepared food vendors use certified halal ingredients.”

Accessibility is a hot topic for markets, not just regarding vendors. It is the goal of all King County farmers markets, and beyond, to ensure that everyone has access to the fresh, local, nutrient-rich foods they provide.

“It is our mission to build and support a just and equitable food system…to make fresh, locally grown food accessible to as many people as possible, no matter their socioeconomic status.” says Shoreline Farmers Market Manager Trinitee King, “We offer a myriad of food access and educational programs and are committed to eliminating as many barriers as possible… food access is always top of mind.”

At almost every King County farmers market, including Shoreline, you will find the option for SNAP-EBT, SNAP Market Match, Fresh Bucks, WIC, or Senior FMNP. But as Bowry with NFM points out, “I think a lot of people are not aware of the food security programs at the markets. It is really important because we want to make the markets accessible and welcoming for all of our community to have access to fresh produce and other food items.”

Valdez hopes that educating people about these options will lead to a brighter future for local food. “My hope for the Auburn Famers Market is…more regular customers who switch from shopping at big-box stores to supporting small businesses.” This switch would help to expand markets, provide healthy food to more people, and foster sustainable shopping and eating habits.

No matter which market is “your” market, each and every one is for everyone. For King County farmers markets, the future is bright. “A culturally rich and diverse food forward market, with a larger footprint and expanded food access programs” is what King envisions for Shoreline, and that vision is shared across the board. There are always more small businesses to highlight, hungry community members to feed, social programs to expand, and environmental issues to mitigate.

Even though August is Eat Local Month King County and there are many to choose from, there are year-round markets throughout the county and WA state. Which makes shopping at a farmers market something you can do regardless of the season. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and tantalizing smells; talk to a farmer, smile at a stranger. Treat yourself to delicious local produce, eggs, bread, and take in the power of what community togetherness can do for all of us.

To explore King County farmers markets or to find one near you, click here. For more information on Eat Local Month King County, resources, recipes, and to enter to win over $1,000 in delicious prizes from local farms, farmers markets and food businesses, visit the Eat Local Month King County website.

About the farmers markets featured:

University District Farmers Market –

Saturdays 9am – 2pm,     University Way NE (the “Ave”) between 50th & 52nd, 98105

Founded in 1993, the University District Farmers Market is one of the oldest in King County. There, you can find a number of vendors who have been there since inception or close to it. Close-knit and colorful, you are sure to find all manner of delicious local fare.

Carnation Farmers Market –

Tuesdays 3-7pm, Tolt-MacDonald Park & Campground, Carnation, WA 98014

Carnation Farmers Market is one of the best testaments to the power of markets. Through so many challenges, it has emerged better than ever. They have doubled their attendance from 2022, offer more ways to engage, and more vendors to meet.             

Auburn Farmers Market –

Sundays 10am – 3pm, 1140 Auburn Way South, Auburn WA 98002

The Auburn Farmers Market was voted #1 by the American Farmland Trust in 2022 and we can see why. With over 50 vendors, park backdrop, and so many family-friendly activities, it is the ideal place to spend a Sunday. There are produce vendors and locally made goods as well as food stands for all picnicking needs.

Shoreline Farmers Market –

Saturdays 10am – 2pm, BikeLink Park & Ride (corner of 192nd & Aurora, across from Sky Nursery)

Live music, food, flowers, pastries, kids programs, and so much more, the Shoreline Farmers Market has it all. Dedicating to providing delicious and accessible food to the Shoreline community, it’s a wonderful place to explore on a Saturday.

Delridge Farmers Market –

Saturdays 10am -2pm, Hope Academy 9421 18th Ave SW, Seattle

In it’s third year and now every Saturday, it is easy to see why Delridge has quickly become such a popular market. In addition to having a diverse array of produce and prepared food, they also offer Kid Bucks, Free Produce Bags, Free Basic Need Supplies, Exercise and Cooking Classes/Demonstrations, and the Vendor Buyback Program through AHCD. Each market hosts about 15 vendors and 500 visitors.