On the way to the hotel in Seattle, I tumbled by accident across a farmers’ market: the South Lake Union Farmers’ Market. So I hurried up to get my luggage into the room, and in a second I was out again. Just a couple blocks and I was at Amazon place where the market takes place. It took me quite a while to realize and asking a few people that the square at its name for a reason: it is the location of the Amazon headquarters. I felt really stupid. But I have to say kudos to such a company which doesn’t put big signs on their offices. So clearly the market was at a hidden prime location.
People from the offices nearby came to the market to have lunch, buy some produce or flowers. I almost had the impression that flowers were THE bestseller at this place. Guys with a dog on a leach in one hand were juggling on the other hand a large bouquet. The flower dealers were all the time busy. I did not understand this longing for flowers.
Lunch in the digital age
As the market operated around lunch, people enjoyed street food: chicken wings, pizza, tamales, kombucha, biscuits, naan and more. For the naan, people were queuing for at least 20 minutes to get their share. Understanding that they were working in the digital world with instant delivery etc. I was impressed how patient they could be to get the hottest plate at the market.
Having so many people from Amazon sticking around made me curious. It does not happen every day to me to be in the center of something so significant to the digital world. I wanted to understand if they looked like Millennials, hip, geeky or something different to what I am used to. Well, apart from the many buyers of flowers and a many dog owners, things looked “normal”. Many people looked like they could have been working in any other office building. Most seemed to be Millennials, still some older ones where easy to spot as well. Apart from being quite an international crowd, they all looked rather normal or better: as to be expected from a larger city like Seattle. Anyway, it is always interesting when perceptions meets reality.
What to check out
Let’s not forget: we are at a farmers’ market and have a mission: discovering the good stuff and the people behind it.
It was berry season, so the fruit stands were all offering the beautiful bounty, and I was happy to see so many blueberries. But all the other summer vegetables and fruit were plenty as well: tomatoes in a large variety, peppers, eggplants, strawberries, Mt. Rainier cherries, fresh corn, potatoes … All looked lovely and this is what you expect from a good farmers’ market.
When I browse through a market, there are always a couple stalls getting my special attention, be it the vendor is very communicative and entertaining or the produce is very interesting. And some times, like at the South Lake Union Farmers’ Market it is both. It is about the fish and the saffron stalls.
Wilson Fish Markets belongs to a traditional fisherman, meaning that he is fishing in the near waters around Washington state. Fishing there is strongly regulated, the government issues quota. As far as I remember the quota was less than 100 pieces of King Salmon in a week for Mr. Wilson. The salmon is being caught by line fishing not with nets. Besides salmon, halibut and other fish are being sold. Jania the sister of the fisherman is doing all the work on farmers’ markets. She is not only serving South Lake Union farmers’ market but also other ones including the famous Ballard farmers’ market in Seattle – one which has become also a tourist destination.
One of the down sides of US farmers’ markets in general is the lack of stalls with refrigerated displays, the stuff which has to be kept cold is vacuumed in freezer bags and “hidden” in coolers. But sampling is usually generous. The same here: on visible display was smoked salmon which I tested before buying and enjoying it for a couple days.
One of my favorite subjects in Seattle is the Pike Place Public Market. It is an important tourist destination mainly due to their fish and seafood stalls. It is certainly a place with some good produce, but it is from my perspective overrated and I never feel comfortable there, I somehow have a love-hate relation. I told Jania that I was surprised by the prices there of 30$ or so per pound of salmon. She replied that those are the normal prices any stall can sell King Salmon for in Seattle, outside the city prices decrease significantly. Happy to hear that producers can make a good margin as well.
Saffron produced in Washington State
I still regret that I did not buy any saffron produced in Washington State from the market. It comes in small glasses and can be easily transported in the cabin luggage. And I never heard that it is being produced in North America before I read about it for this post in Wikipedia. At the Cyrus Saffron stall I got a full introduction in German to its production. The whole enterprise belongs to a German-Iranian couple which started the production in the Eastern part of the sate. A nice result of globalization 🙂
The German lady told me that they started the business a few years ago and she is still working part-time in another job. The region where they produce the saffron is a fruit growing area as well. As the fruit seasons ends, the saffron one starts, the field workers from Mexico stay a little longer to pull out the threads from the saffron flower (a crocus variety). This is a tedious job as you may see in this video and more detailed in this one from Italy. All is then nicely packaged and labeled and marketing on the web includes an online shop. But having a direct contact with customers on a market is worth a lot. I enjoyed the conversation and got some inspiration. I certainly have a weakness for entrepreneurs who open new frontiers in food. They also contribute in getting younger crowds to the markets.
The farmers’ markets in the US have a notable difference to most other farmers’ markets I am aware of: there is always an information booth with some volunteers or professional market managers. No difference here, but with some marketing research. Five flip charts were ready for customers to pin their stickers like in a multiple choice test. The questions were basic ones: where one is coming from, the reason for visit of the market, the frequency of visits, the willingness to pay. Another one gave space for any suggestions. I really appreciate the efforts to work on the customer experience and good exercise for the interns who conducted the research.
On the suggestion chart the few suggestions were focusing mainly on getting more vendors, something I judged reasonable as meat, milk and cheese were missing.
All in all: An “Amazon prime location”, a good place for lunch and purchase of good produce including local salmon and saffron
A little link list:
- The official website of the South Lake Union farmers’ market which is part of the Pike Place Market group
- A list of the vendors and some information on the operations from “thestranger.com
- The Wilson Fish Markets stall Facebook page
- The website of the amazing entrepreneurs Cyrus Saffron and their Facebook page
- An the website of the guy who was once a security officer at Amazon and is now producing and selling premium sauces + chicken wings