Her big leap into the fields of sustainable food, localized agriculture and farmers' markets came after studying in England, when she garnered a cooking internship with the renowned Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, run by author, chef and sustainable food guru Alice Waters.
Her senior thesis documented how to build social communities through food, and the interrelationships between food and social, racial, ethnic and gender groups. Since returning to Spokane, she has worked with some of the city's low-income middle and high school students, introducing them to the farmers' market and broaching discussions on such topics as fast food, GMOs and agri-business.
As the farmers market season gets underway, we caught up with Penberthy, to see what she's up to now that she's become the director of the Spokane Farmers Market.
INLANDER: Give us a brief history of your connection to farmers markets in Spokane. & r & PENBERTHY: While I was writing my thesis, I worked as the food educator at the Spokane Farmers' Market (through a grant from New Priorities Foundation), providing recipes and nutrition information, performing cooking demos, arranging "Shop with the Chef" days, and hosting special tastings of market products. Although the program was originally intended for WIC and Senior Nutrition Program clients, it attracted many regular market customers, and I realized then what a tremendous need there was for education about the benefits of supporting a local, sustainable food system. When the market closed [for the winter] in October 2005, I submitted a proposal for funding to start "Friends," which I hope will establish a strong base of community support not only for the market, but for sustainable agriculture and local commerce in general.
Why should Spokane embrace a permanent, robust and large farmers' market? & r & The Project for Public Spaces interviewed people throughout the country to find out what most appealed to them about their public markets. The top response was that markets are important venues for community gathering -- they bring people together. Twenty percent of Washington's economy is based in agricultural production, and we grow everything from wheat to wine grapes, yet most of the food is exported to other states and countries. Even more ridiculous, many of the farmers at our market have to go to Seattle every week to sell what they can't sell here.
How many vendors should we expect here? & r & Although we may not have the population or food production to support a market with 150 vendors (like Portland), our market should be much larger than the average 12 vendors we had last year. The market should represent the breadth of production in this area, so there should be wines, cheeses, more meats and fish, baked goods, legumes, grains, tofu and prepared foods.
The current location [at Second and Browne] only has room for 24 stalls. The problem with this space is that there is absolutely no room to grow.
What are some places the market could move to? & r & The top five ideal locations have room to increase vendors, but they don't all have easy parking. The first floor of the Jensen-Byrd building (owned by WSU), coupled with the wide street in front, would be ideal for an indoor-outdoor market.
Many cities (like Missoula and Monterey) close down traffic on a street for markets. So Main Street between Division and Browne is fairly central, bridging the financial district and the U. District, and can be directly linked to the businesses and organizations in the Community Building and Saranac Hotel.
Then there's Wall Street, the cobblestone street in the heart of downtown, which is closed to traffic.
Riverfront Park's covered shelters between Howard and Washington streets offer the backdrop of the trails, river and amenities of the park -- perfect for a public market, with plenty of room for expansion.
And the Post Street Bridge, and Bridge Street, would put a market near where developers like Marshall Chesrown and Don Barbieri are putting in housing developments in this area.
Why do you think Spokane has had such a difficult time embracing the concept? & r & Lawmakers, politicians, business leaders, developers and other movers and shakers in the community have not embraced a strong market because they do not understand that supporting a local food system benefits the community in diverse ways. I think despite how chic and in vogue it is to buy anything organic, free-range and non-GMO, there is still a prevalent misconception that farmers' markets are only fringe places for granola-eating, tree-hugging hippies and therefore have no place in plans for city development. If these people studied the successful markets in other cities -- San Francisco, Portland, Olympia, and even in nearby towns like Moscow and Sandpoint -- they would make it a high priority to establish a similar market here.