As the summer sun glints off a pyramid of scarlet-and-yellow Rainier cherries, at least one customer can't contain himself. "I know I can't buy yet, but can I sample?" he asks. It's Wednesday afternoon in July in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood, and the weekly farmers market--one of 40 in King County alone, up from nine a decade ago--is set to begin. Customers mass around the two blocks of stands, ogling bok choy and baby turnips, positioning themselves to get the ripest tomatoes. At 3 p.m., a bell rings to open the proceedings. Almost immediately, money flies across tables in flashes of green.
Think farm-to-table dining, and you may envision tree-hugging elitists rolling up to urban markets in expensive cars to fill cloth bags with expensive lettuce and free-range chicken. But look closer. The Columbia City customers are a disparate lot. Many are immigrants, going stall to stall to buy produce as they did at home. Others live in downtrodden neighborhoods nearby, one reason that this market has recently started accepting food stamps.
"A lot of people here don't fit the stereotype," says Lauren Keeler of Columbia City Bakery, which sells breads and cakes made just down the street. "It's not just some kind of yuppie thing. We get Asian immigrants, African immigrants, middle class, lower-middle class. It's amazingly diverse."