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To Market, To Market 

by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he calendar registers spring, even though it seems like barely a week ago that we saw our last snow flurries. (Wait. It was barely a week ago.) Still, the growing season is finally underway, and farmers markets across the region are kicking off their festivities.

The Spokane Farmers Market has been operating for 10 years in its location on Second Avenue between Browne and Division, and on opening day last Saturday, vendors and shoppers greeted one another as old friends. Amid the familiar faces -- Tolstoy Farm, Olsen Farm, Quillisascut Cheese, breads from Bouzies and Arabesque -- were a few new faces like Petit Chat Bakery. And there are new services as well, says market manager Diane Reuter.

"We've hired a nutrition person this year, and she'll be doing demos and handing out recipes at our nutrition booth," she says.

Since its early years, the Spokane Farmers Market has worked with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program to provide low-income families with vouchers that may be used to purchase local food from the market vendors. In 2007, WIC families purchased more than $25,000 in fresh local produce at the downtown Spokane market. Other area markets, including Millwood and Liberty Lake, also take part in the WIC program.

This year, food stamp recipients will be able to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards -- similar to debit cards -- at the downtown market. Reuter says, "They can go to the nutrition booth and use their EBT card to get tokens, which they can use at the vendor booths."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ith the growing emphasis on local food, farmers markets seem like a no-brainer. Many local markets have been active for a number of years, and the number of markets around the Inland Northwest is growing. Nationally, the USDA estimates that the number of farmers markets increased 150 percent from 1994 to 2006. But the road to the market -- whether for producers or consumers -- has not always run smooth. People have strong opinions about farmers markets.

According to the Washington State Farmers Market Association (WSFMA), a farmers market is one where the items at the market are sold by the people who produced them -- farmers, ranchers, bakers, beekeepers, cheese makers and, frequently, craftspeople. The WSFMA policies allow for a small number of food resellers, but some individual markets exclude them entirely.

In fact, that's the primary issue that caused local growers to form the Spokane Farmers Market back in 1998. "We needed a place where farmers could make a living," says Reuter. Vendors at the downtown market are limited to selling farm-related items, she says. "We have no strictly crafts things. Soap has to be made with herbs that you've grown. We're trying to keep it tied to growers."

Common complaints about the Spokane Farmers Market include a lack of parking and the market's location in an asphalt parking lot, but Spokane isn't the only community to wrestle with these kinds of issues. Nearby parking is tight in both Moscow and Sandpoint, and a parking lot location seems to be a frequent theme. "In Seattle, the U-District market is in a parking lot, and it's one of the best markets in the state," says Reuter. "And you want to talk about no parking...."

Regardless of the issues, visiting a local farmers market is just plain fun -- and it's good for the environment as well, especially if you walk or bike to get there. You'll get to know the people who produced your food, and the relationships will nourish more than just your body.

Moscow Farmers Market

Friendship Square,

Main Street at Third

Saturday, 8 am-noon, May-October

2008 Opening: May 3

40 vendors: Produce, prepared food, baked goods, meats, plants and flowers, crafts, community groups, music

Sandpoint Farmers Market

Farmin Park, Third and Main Street

Saturday, 9 am-1 pm, May-October

Wednesday, 3-5:30 pm, June-September

2008 Opening: May 3

25 vendors: Produce, prepared food, baked goods, cheese, plants and flowers, crafts, music

Spokane Farmers Market (downtown)

Second Ave. at Division

Saturday, 8 am-1 pm, May-October

Wednesday, 8 am-1 pm, June-September

2008 Opening: May 10 (Wednesday market opens June 11)

25 vendors: Produce, baked goods, beef, chicken, eggs, cheese, plants and flowers, farm-based crafts, music

Kootenai County Farmers Market

Highway 95 at Prairie Ave., Hayden

Saturday, 8 am-1 pm, May-October

2008 Opening: May 10

Fifth Ave. between Sherman and Front, Coeur d'Alene

Wednesday, 4-7 pm, May-October

2008 Opening: May 14

40 vendors: Produce, baked goods, beef, lamb, plants and flowers, crafts, music

Liberty Lake Farmers Market

1421 N. Meadowwood Ln., at Liberty Square parking lot

Saturday, 9 am-1 pm, May-October

2008 Opening: May 17

40 vendors: Produce, baked goods, plants and flowers, community groups, crafts, music

Millwood Farmers Market

3223 N. Marguerite Rd., at Millwood Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, 3-7 pm, May-September

2008 Opening: May 21

29 vendors: Produce, baked goods, beef, plants and flowers, crafts, music

Humble Earth Farmers Market

10505 N. Newport Hwy., at Aslin-Finch parking lot

Sunday, 10 am-3 pm, June-October

2008 Opening: June 1

20 vendors: Produce, baked goods, beef, chicken, seafood, eggs, cheese, prepared foods, plants and flowers, crafts

South Perry Farmers Market

1317 E. 12th Ave., at Christ Community Church parking lot

Thursday, 4-8 pm, June-September

2008 Opening: June 5

30 vendors: Produce, baked goods, beef, chicken, seafood, eggs, cheese, prepared foods, plants and flowers, crafts

In addition, there are markets in Hope, Idaho, and in Colville and Newport, Washington.

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