PORT TOWNSEND — Fresh oysters, steamed or raw, shucked and served on the half shell.
Platters of creamy sweet and savory cheeses.
Beds of fresh greens hiding a horde of golden treasures: roasted parsnips and beets, round brown wheat berries.
“The salad is special– even the wheat berries are from a local farm,” said Arran Stark.
Stark was head chef for the Port Townsend Farmers Market’s annual Harvest Dinner, which featured locally grown produce and foods.
Held Sunday at the Bishop Hotel courtyard, the sold-out fundraiser celebrated the success of the Port Townsend Farmers Market, which is bursting at the seams.
“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds,” said Wendie Dyson, market director.
“We’re running to keep up with it.”
Large Wednesday growth
Dyson is completing her first year as director of the market, which started downtown in 1992 with 14 vendors.
Since then, the number of vendors has tripled.
This year saw the largest jump in the number of vendors at the Wednesday afternoon market.
“This year, we provided a marketplace for 90 independent local businesses, from farmers to artisans,” Dyson said, “and expect their sales to top over three-quarters of a million dollars this season.”
So far, the 2008 market has drawn 40,000 customers, Dyson said, and still has another month to go.
Contributing to the success was an online newsletter, previewing the week’s fresh produce and food, that was created by Gabriel Kime, a local high school senior who is interning at the market.
Still on the wish list: more administrative resources and volunteers to keep up with the growth, Dyson said.
Customer requests include a regular source of milk, eggs, yogurt and pasta.
“Imagine doing all your weekly food shopping at the market,” she said.
Market vendors supplied almost all of the ingredients for the three-course sit-down dinner, which drew 160 market supporters and friends.
Served in the courtyard tent, it started with the appetizers in the garden.
With Pete Toyne providing background music, guests chose from an array of Mt. Townsend Cheeses in the gazebo.
At Leonard Johnson’s Mystery Bay Seafood cart, they were served oysters, raw or steamed and basted with butter, from Leonard’s son, Spencer Johnson, 15, and Jesant Baril, 14, nephew of WSU extension agent Katherine Baril.
Market board treasurer John Estes served wines and beer from local wineries and microbrewers.
Cider from Eaglemount Winery and onions from Midori Farm were used to create a sauce for the entree, Cape Cleare salmon.
“This gathering is an opportunity to feed the relationships between the farmers and customers, and in the process, keep the whole community growing healthy and strong,” said Keith Kisler of FinnRiver Farm, who emceed the event.
Featured speaker was author Michael Ableman from Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.
Ableman called for a revolution in the way food is grown in the United States, advocating urban agriculture, with people taking responsibility for growing their own food.
According to Ableman, only 1 percent of the population actually has its hands in the soil raising food.
“This isn’t a crisis of the economy or a crisis of the environment, it’s a crisis of participation,” Ableman said.
“Farming isn’t a spectator sport.”
Other speakers included Lela Hilton, a market vendor, and Karyn Williams of Red Dog Farm, who spoke about how the market helped her fulfill her goal of growing food for herself and the larger community.
Linda Yakush of Pan D’Amore bakery talked about how Harvindar Singh, former director of the market, badgered her and partner Frank D’Amore into selling at the market when it was downtown.
“We had four bread baskets, and went up and down the hill until we sold out,” Yakush said.
“We felt like the Pied Piper of Dough– people followed us to the booth.”
Pete and Mary Brackney of Wildwood Farm in Quilcene and Zach Wailand of Dharma Ridge Farm in Chimacum were among the 20 farmers who were special guests at the dinner.
Steve Habersetzer of Oatsplanter Farm and Malcolm Dorn were recognized as two of the original vendors.
Sponsors of the dinner were Stark’s Cultivated Palate catering company, Dream City Catering, the Bishop Victorian Hotel and the WSU Jefferson County Extension Office.
Stark said he spent three days preparing the meal in Dream City Catering kitchen, with the Courtyard Cafe near the Bishop Hotel providing ovens the day of the event.
French pastry chef Alain De La Cruz helped make the pastry for the dessert tart, made with FinnRiver Farm apples and topped with rosemary-flavored ice cream courtesy of Elevated Ice Cream.
Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim and Colinwood Farm in Port Townsend also provided produce.
“This has really been a community effort,” Stark said.
Stark gave cooking demonstrations this summer at the Wednesday afternoon market, which is now closed for the season, but he still is carrying the flag for local food.
“We’re going to keep the momentum going all year long,” Stark said.
Third harvest dinner
This is the third harvest dinner the Farmers Market has held, but the first large event.
Last year, the market held a series of four dinners at smaller venues, Dyson said.
More checks are coming in, but so far, the dinner has raised $19,000, more than twice as much as the total from last year’s harvest dinner series, Dyson said Monday.
Of the dinner’s gross revenue, $7,500 was in donations to be used for education and outreach.
The Port Townsend Farmers Market continues on Saturdays through Nov.22 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tyler Street in uptown Port Townsend.
For more information, go to www.ptfarmersmarket.org or call 360-379-9098.
Port Townsend-Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.