When thinking of a resurrected farmers market in Spokane, it’s hard to resist visions of Seattle’s fabled Pike Place Market.
Resist it, we should, however. Not because it paints false and unreasonable expectations, although it does. Not because Spokane isn’t Seattle, although it’s not. And not because the Pike Place Market boasts more than a century of history, although it’s come a long way since the day in August 1907 when eight farmers unloaded their wagons of reasonably priced produce for some 10,000 eager consumers.
The main reason the comparison with Pike Place Market is wanting is that a better one lies just around the corner from Second and Browne, where the Spokane Public Market is scheduled to open in May.
Twenty years ago, barely more than a dozen vendors were on hand when the then Spokane Marketplace opened for the first time at Division and Riverside. By 1994, the year the market effectively lost its lease, the enterprise attracted 300,000 patrons and accommodated some 200 vendors during the season.
That kind of demonstrated success, and more, is within reach for the forthcoming market that expects to operate Wednesday through Saturday 12 months a year out of a warehouse that still needs more refurbishing.
Success is not guaranteed, of course, as the post-eviction history of the first Marketplace showed. Other locations were tried – in Riverfront Park, on West First, on North Ruby – but they never replicated the success of the original. Eventually the farmers market concept broke into smaller, scattered activities that have been kept breathing on the energy of dedicated vendors and neighborhood activists.
But Spokane has gone too long without the kind of robust, central farmers market that supports regional agriculture, entertainers and craftsmen while doubling as a community gathering place. That latter quality should not be overlooked as one of the strong points of a market where growers and buyers meet face to face and area residents can mingle, chat and, yes, gather up a bag or three of fresh fruits and veggies for the dinner table.
Such experts as former Missoula Mayor Daniel Kemmis have praised successful farmers markets for the contributions they make to civic vibrancy and, in turn, to living democracy.
And that’s as nutritious, in its own way, as an apple or bunch of asparagus.