Opinion: Impromptu farmers’ market shows what could be

Photo by Joel Lee.
by Joel Lee

On Beacon Hill we are blessed with a wide variety of produce. From the overflowing displays at McPherson’s, to the tidy convenience of Red Apple Market, we have several opportunities close by. But I’m a firm believer that a healthy economy needs a wide variety of participants and part of that formula needs to be a way for individuals with little or no money to get their foot in the door. I do my best to shop locally but I also have an extra soft spot in my heart for micro-businesses. I have a strict personal rule to never pass a child’s lemonade stand without buying something.

It is with this spirit that I was happy to see an impromptu farmers’ market popped up on Beacon Hill this last Friday in the parking lot along Beacon near the VA hospital. I’m not sure how it got organized or if it will even happen again, but if you happen to see the tents set up there, it’s worth a stop to check it out. We bought a variety of locally grown vegetables from the half dozen stands that were set up including eggplant, corn, and green peppers, but they also had many foods that I was less familiar with, such as bitter melon.

Clearly, from the amount of foot traffic that was at this unadvertised event there is a sustainable demand for this type of service on Beacon Hill, but I would love to see a more permanent and accessible area created somewhere for such a market. Imagine a mini Pike Place Market where not only seasonal foods but handmade arts and crafts could be found. An area like this could become the heart of our neighborhood—and a boost for all of the businesses in our area if we are able to attract shoppers from other regions.

Joel Lee maintains the Beacon Hill Public Art website.

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Photo by Joel Lee.

20 thoughts on “Opinion: Impromptu farmers’ market shows what could be”

  1. That thing has been going on for a long time (at least a year maybe longer, if memory serves). It didn’t just pop up. It seems to be mostly serviced by and patronized by folks from the Asian, which is probably why it has flown underneath the radar of a lot of folks not in that community.

    I liked the idea of it, and I think a bigger more official BEHI farmer’s market would be cool, but at present, at least for me, the Columbia City and Georgetown FMs are a better fit in terms of having special stuff I can’t get at Red Apple, ABC, MacPherson’s, etc.

  2. I could be mistaken but I think the one big difference between the vendors setting up on Beacon Ave by the VA and those at a Farmer’s Market is that those at a farmer’s market are licensed businesses (and they are paying taxes).

  3. I first found the stands by the VA last summer. For a while I was making a regular bike circle down through those stands on my way to MacPhersons, sometimes stopping at Fou Lee for a budget-friendly Bahn Mi. I particularly liked the long green beans from one of the stands. I’ve been out of that habit this year due to busy-ness, but just want to reiterate that these stands are neither new nor, I suspect, all that impromptu.

  4. @j-lon, glad that it’s been around for awhile, but it’s new to me and I imagine it’s new to a lot of people since I have not seen any advertising. I think it goes without saying that other area farmers markets offer a lot more than this, but we need to start somewhere and I’m glad that Beacon Hill seems to have an ability to support this.

    @Kevin, I’m not sure where you are shopping, but as far as I know there are no taxes on produce in Seattle so I’m not sure what taxes you are talking about. If your talking about B & O taxes they are actually quite low for this sort of thing so it’s hard to imagine that this would have much of an impact. Taxes ultimately come down to the honesty of the business owner and I think it’s presumptuous to say that these people are not paying taxes.

    @Brook, I only meant impromptu in the broadest sense, i.e. ‘Spoken, performed, done, or composed with little or no preparation’ I think that it’s safe to say from the casual set up and lack of advertising that it’s at least a little impromptu?

  5. Joel…sorry to see you get your knickers all bunched up in a knot but please don’t be so naive to believe that these vendors are paying any type of taxes or that their “set up” is casual. You don’t have a clue about the arrangements they have made to sell their own products and keep others out.

  6. Dear ‘Say What?’ – You could fill libraries with the amount of knowledge that I do not know, that is for sure. I do not know for sure if Red Apple Market, the Chevron Station or any other business on Beacon Hill are paying their taxes. I suppose as a small business owner myself, one thing that I do know is the struggles and costs involved in starting a small business in Seattle and that I therefore give small businesses the benefit of the doubt. Does this mean that I presume that every child’s lemonade stand has passed health inspections? Gotten their food handlers permit? Gotten a permit to set up their stand on a public sidewalk in front of their house? Obtained liability insurance? Registered with the state and has a full understanding of the self employment tax implications with the IRS? No, of course not, but I hope that every small business gets to this point when it is appropriate.
    I’m not sure if you actually read my editorial, but the whole point was that we as a community should help to develop a safe, accessible space where small vendors could set up and sell their products. I’m sure that if we created something more formal it would be much easier to regulate legal and tax issues if that is something you are concerned about.
    You are also correct that I “ don’t have a clue about the arrangements they have made to sell their own products and keep others out.” It sounds like you must have some first hand knowledge about this and I hope you will share. Too my naïve eyes it just looked like some farmers selling some vegetables in a parking lot and judging from the vendors that changed in just the two days I went there it seemed pretty informal and casual.

  7. Back about 20 years ago when SDOT finally built the Beacon Avenue median, there was already a long established tradition of vendors selling cherries and ducks and what not on the median. The community members working on the median project were in unanimous agreement that the traditional vending should continue. So, SDOT actually designed the median to include that use. It is great that neighbors recognize a great tradition when they see one. Sometimes there haven’t been a lot of vendors, but I don’t remember a summer in the last 25 years without someone selling stuff out there.

    By the way, as long as the food isn’t processed, I think the City supports anybody vending their fresh veggies. I should get out there with my very green tomatoes!

  8. Every year when I see a pickup selling cherries by the VA, I think it looks exactly like the same truck and same hand painted sign I remember from when I first moved to the southend in 1992. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but either way I’m glad that the vendors weren’t displaced by the median project.

    Thinking back on it though, it seems that the median project can’t have been 20 years ago since I remember the old median so clearly. Maybe 15?

  9. I’m rather new to Beacon Hill (couple of years now) and like Joel, this is the first time I’ve seen this new crop of vendors. I was really happy to see them there near the usual cherry truck area. It provides a nice pedestrian quality to that part of the hill and clearly by the number of shoppers, they serve a special need. I hope we see more of this kind of activity in the neighborhood.

  10. Off topic…Interesting that anonymous posters are the most harsh. One of the downsides of the so called Internet “community”

  11. Yes, I have noticed that too. They might want to know that they are not necessarily as anon as they may think they are. It looks like Kevin and Say What are the same person, or at least, using the same computer.

    Brook, it’s definitely not 20 years since the median was reconfigured. It was well-after we moved here in 1996. Maybe 10-12 years? A lot has happened in that time, though!

  12. I remember the work being done, which makes me think it might have been in ’98 when we moved to Beacon Hill after a few years in Fremont. We spent ’99-’00 in the Bay Area, so would have missed it except for a couple of trips to check up on our house.

    Community on the Internet is very real, and is as much a forum for unpleasant speech as any barstool in town can be. While anonymous comments can be harsh, I’ve seen people say things on this blog using their real names that were just as bad. Maybe in some ways they were worse, since it seems like anonymous posters tend to lash out at one person in particular, while some of the attributed comments have lashed out at the anonymous, faceless “them” that I usually think of as “my neighbors.” Others have gone after the City, and occasionally specific City employees, in the same tone.

  13. Short version…

    “In the world of web 2.0, the ability to post anonymous comments was a deliberate design decision. It has proven to be a disastrous design decision. It has degraded public discourse. It has encouraged good people to say and do horrible things to others. It has allowed us to evade personal responsibility.”

  14. @ Freddie and everyone, it’s always good to get a historical insight, thank you.

    The Beacon Hill Blog is a relatively safe place to post comments and I’m always happy to hear views that are different than mine. On more than one occasion I’ve changed my mind or at least broadened my prospective based on other people’s posts and I’m happy to defend my own position. But who knew that vegetables could be so controversial?

  15. Warning: Way off topic…

    @Adam, Lanier’s a brilliant guy and I completely agree with him that anonymous commenting has contributed to the degradation of interaction not only online, but also in the rest of society too. However, the trend towards acting rudely with no shame really was established in the “us vs. them” politics of the ’60’s and has been getting more common ever since. Public neighborhood meetings in the South East District were known for unneighborly behavior before most people had ever seen the Internet. What you see in anonymous comments feeds into it, but it’s hardly the cause of it. Anonymity has been a hallmark of the Internet since long before there was a Web, so singling out the “Web 2.0” era for this one isn’t very convincing.

    Lanier and Nicholas Carr are the most visible public faces of the current manifestation of an anti-new media tradition that has long roots. Every time a new disruptive medium is introduced, very smart people take very reactionary conservative stands against it. Doing so is literally built into the foundation of Western thought. The philosophy of Socrates was based on his concern that the introduction of writing was destroying the human capacity for memory and reason. Of course we only know that because his student Plato wrote it down. One of the first books published on Gutenberg’s press was a scribe’s polemic against mechanical printing, which he felt was going to destroy society by making his job obsolete. It happens every time a new medium comes along.

    That’s not to say that it isn’t true of course. Writing completely upended Greek society, the printing press helped start an enormous upheaval in Western religious and political systems, and each successive disruptive medium (photograph, telegraph, movies, broadcast, internet) has brought a certain amount of chaos along with it. Although it isn’t talked about much, Online media is a major contributing factor to the depth of the recession by making it possible to create more wealth while employing fewer people. That’s not good, but in the long run it’s not entirely bad either.

    Anyway, like I said, a lot of Lanier’s points are right on. But The Beacon HIll Blog should hardly be viewed through the same lens as Facebook’s dehumanizing data mining or even The Seattle Times open sewer approach to comments. There is real online community and you are participating in it every time you use it to deny that it exists. Not everyone online is hurtling insults at each other, just as not everyone in real life is being unfailingly polite.

  16. It probably just feels to me like 20 years ago that the median was built because it was in the planning stages for eternity. In fact, I remember it was funded and then unfunded and built later than it was supposed to be. But now we have it and that cool park next door too, which is looking really good!

    We may all have to pitch in to do some maintenance once in a while in the flower beds if the budget continues to go downhill, but it might be a really nice activity on a sunny day.

  17. Oh, believe me, it does seem like 20 years ago sometimes.

    Is it the same cherry vendors that have been there the whole time? I know there has been someone there selling cherries forever.

  18. Not only is this an old thread and the subject is quite a bit off-topic, but if anyone who has read or is interested in Lanier’s dystopian look at technology and society wants to balance it out, I’m about halfway through “What’s Mine is Yours – The Rise of Collaborative Consumerism,” by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers and recommend it highly. It looks at examples of real community online that Lanier’s cynicism doesn’t let him credit as valuable. Etsy and Linux are just a couple of useful counter examples.

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