Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” As Olympians we are blessed to live in a unique city that promotes individuality. Olympia, Washington is one of the most diverse, understanding and accepting cities in America. This capital city is brimming with creativity and self-expression. One of the best ways to experience this distinct city is a popular hot spot, The Olympia Farmers Market. You will find the market is bursting with originality whether you’re a vendor or a shopper. It is a true community ready to warmly welcome all who enter.
As I pull up to the Farmers Market the parking lot is already ¾ of the way full which is unusual for 9:40 AM on a Thursday. After a few moments of musing over why while finding a parking spot, I remember that there is another big event going on this week in which we locals patiently wait for all year: Lakefair. This will be a good weekend for the vendors. As soon as I exit the vehicle a wave of familiarity hits me. Gulls squawking, a mix of sopranos, tenors, alto and baritone voices warming up on stage for today’s entertainment, the tantalizing smell of roasting nuts mixed with coffee brewing, busy vendors trying to cram in their breakfast before the opening bell. I feel at home in this community, this is where I spent my childhood summers all the way through young adulthood until my grandfather passed and my grandmother had to sell the family farm.
Getting here so early allows me to see a little of the behind the scenes. The market manager walks around greeting the vendors and doing roll call. Vendors trade goods with each other. The merchants thoughtfully organize their wares, I see the fruit vendors perfectly placing individual cherries in bowls so they form a cherry mountain. The vendor with fresh cut flowers methodically chooses the next vibrant stem to complete a masterpiece of nature. One vegetable vendor rearranges her stack of carrots three times so the brightest and biggest carrots are on top. Though their wares may be different you can see the same look of pride each one has for their products. Every pint of blueberries, every hand sewn lavender face mask and every jar of honey are all reflective of the maker’s soul, their hard work and creative expressions. It’s a labor of love.
As I stand in line for my morning cup of joe while waiting for the opening bell I overhear two women behind me debating whether or not the market coffee stand would suffice or if they should walk across the street to Batdorff & Bronson’s. One woman sounds appalled at the idea saying, “Batdorff and Bronson’s coffee is more burnt tasting than Starbucks.” So they agree to try the market coffee stand since they are here anyways. I can’t help but laugh to myself. Only in Washington will you find such coffee connoisseurs.
After finding a place to sit while enjoying my coffee I begin to take everything in. If this was my first visit it would be a sensory overload; there is so much hustle and bustle going on. There are lines already forming at popular booths. It is berry season and Spooner’s sells out fast. Stewart’s Meats is another popular one with lines almost into the other vendors’ space, the lines that use to form for my grandparents’ “Bodacious” corn went all the way out into the street. I understand the sense of urgency and preparation for the morning rush. The customers are polite and courteous while waiting for their favorite seasonal treats. I notice another line full of mothers with small children, it is the WIC line. WIC is a federal government program that promotes healthy eating. Each mother is handed a book of $4.00 vouchers to be used on fresh vegetables and fruits only at the market. Not only does this program help low income families, it helps promote the local agriculture community. WIC is not mandatory for the market and it’s vendors to participate in, I take great pride in knowing this market is willing to help out those who have fallen on hard times.
After hitting up my favorite vendors and purchasing my groceries for the week, it is lunch time and the crowd has almost doubled. Choosing which restaurant to eat at is a little difficult. There is so much variety, ranging from Greek, Asian, German, Vegan and Mexican; there is something for everybody. I settled for some crab cakes and people watching. The entertainment has also changed from an elderly choir group to an older man wailing away his emotions on his blues guitar. The entertainment at the market changes daily as they support all genres of performers from belly dance troupes to the twanging notes of a stand-up bass during the annual Bluegrass Festival.
I quietly observe all of the beautiful differences I see clashed into this community experience. An old man with his big plastic sun shades lapping his ice cream cone, two teenage girls sitting across from each other texting on their phones, an older woman in the highest hot pink stilettos I have ever seen, professional state workers from the Capital meeting up for lunch, a group of children on a field trip with their daycare getting their faces painted, a young man selling poems on the sidewalk, a cheerful palm reader ready to tell your future for $1.00 a minute, volunteers helping with waste management, a balloon artist, an organization selling raffle tickets to support foster children, and the one similarity I see is a lot of smiles. I see acceptance. I don’t see judgments or sideways glances at those that may be a little more eccentric. I don’t see snobbery and segregation. I see togetherness, I see shoppers supporting their neighbors, I see vendors happily catering to each individual person’s needs, I see an openness that would be shunned in less accepting venues. This is a place where you can be yourself and not be judged. This is a place that values self-expression and individuality. The Olympia Farmers Market is the very definition of community.