Even with more area farms selling produce at the Saturday market, shoppers say they can't get enough locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The number of small commercial farms in Dillingham is growing, thanks in part to the popularity of the Saturday farmer’s market. The city also recently agreed to drop the tax on the sale of locally grown fruits and vegetables. But a trip to the farmer's market will leave you with little doubt that the shoppers demand for local produce continues to outpace the growers' supply.
Connor Ito reports for KDLG.
DILLINGHAM: On a dreary October Saturday in Dillingham, the farmer's market was bustling.
Beneath a windblown tent customers eagerly snatched up fresh kale, carrots, cauliflower, and potatoes. Others shopped an ample selection of locally made jams and pickles.
“Fresh vegetables are the best," said one. "They're the best for your body, and to have our own local market is great for local business."
"I think it's wonderful that we have the opportunity to buy baked goods, and fresh vegetables, and herbs grown in our local area," said another.
“It’s a good way to eat, and eat healthy,” said longtime local farmer Tony Hermann as she bagged spuds and carrots for customers in a line that stretched outside her tent.
Hermann and her husband have owned and operated Warehouse Mountain Farms in Dillingham for some two decades, selling their produce, jams, and pickles locally for most of that time. In fact, the Hermanns were one of two families who helped start the farmer’s market those many years ago.
"We just gradually grew into it," she said.
And speaking of growing, even after a season of tough weather Hermann said October took a seven-day-a-week effort to get an ample harvest out of the ground and ready for Saturday market.
But the demand for local produce has continued to outgrow what the Hermann’s can supply.
So it's encouraging to hear from the the USDA office in Dillingham that the number of small farms, or large gardens, has increased from the Hermann's one up to five in recent years.
Kyle Belleque and his family operate one of the newer farms.
“Things grow here,” Belleque said, looking over his couple of acres. “We have our challenges, sure. There's not a real long growing season, but we've got great soil, and we can grow all kinds of good fruits and vegetables here."
By early October, the fields on his couple of acres are mostly tilled over for the year. A few leftover carrots and cabbages, not picked for market, peek through the soil.
The weather was tricky this year, with a warmer, drier summer, but Belleque said their root vegetables did well, especially the beets, potatoes and carrots. And his cabbage and greens, like kale and swiss chard, were a hit.
"We sold a lot of produce at the market this year, a bunch of stuff, it was a good year."
Raising chickens for eggs is growing in popularity, and one farm is even keeping goats for milk. Belleque sees no reason why farming, which has traditionally been a less popular summer activity than commercial and subsistence fishing, can't continue to take off.
“There’s really nothing new here. It’s a lot of work to get started of course, so in that sense it could be hard. But, it can be done. I'm telling you, we have great soil here.”
He said his dream is to grow a whole high tunnel full of strawberries, though he doubts the kids would let those make it to market.
While produce at the farmer’s market is often more expensive than what's available at local grocery stores, the customers say the higher quality is worth the extra cost.
“It’s fresh," said one customer, pointing to the bags in her hand. "You know when we get stuff in the stores its usually old because it's taken so long to get here. This is fresh and it's just exactly what I love!"
At one of the season's last Saturday markets late in October, shoppers with winter in mind are quick to grab up what's available. It's something of a "controlled rugby scrum," as the USDA office in Dillingham affectionately refers to it, and shoppers know to get there early.
"I have my own garden, but I come here to get what I don't grow," said one.
"I like the carrots the most," said one of the most eager shoppers, who only stood about knee-high.
He said was helping his mom find zucchini to put in her fresh baked bread.
Sigh, till next year.