Story last updated at 4:22 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2002

Farmer's Market ready to blossom
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

The Matanuska Valley is famous for, well, its farm goods of course. And Homer is famous for, you guessed it, halibut.

But don't tell that to the Lower Kenai Peninsula's passel of enterprising growers, who have opted to give up the bounty of sea in favor of the fruits of the earth.

And though nary a Midwestern farmer opted to colonize Kachemak Bay during the 1930s as they did at Palmer, enough locals have taken up the hoe to give Alaska's "banana belt" an increasingly vital farmer's market.

After a long winter's sleep, the Homer Farmer's Market will sprout once again on Saturday in an empty lot across from Scrugg's Automotive along Ocean Drive that has been its home for the past two years.

As it has before, the 10 a.m.-to-2 p.m. market will feature a grass-roots collection of vendors of locally grown produce and hand-crafted goods. The Homer Farmer's Market plans on bringing organic goodies, and the occasional musical act, to the street until the autumnal equinox marks the end of summer.

The market has grown from its humble beginning three years ago, when growers had trouble keeping up with demand.

"At the start of the first year, we were selling out really quick," said Shoni Fee, a Farmer's Market volunteer. "That got people excited about growing vegetables and bringing them down (to the market.) It builds up and at one point you could name a vegetable and, if it grows in Alaska, you could find it."

As public interest and the number of vendors grew, the organizational aspect of wholesale vegetable marketing matured as well. The grass-roots bunch incorporated, formalizing themselves into the nonprofit Homer Farmer's Market Inc. This move entitled the group to apply for some modest grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Alaska Grown marketing program.

But even that organizational jumpstart hasn't changed the scene from being what market coordinator Sharon Roufa refers to as "a garage sale for your carrots."

"We did all the bylaws and stuff, but we're definitely more of a funky Homer growing organization," Roufa added.

Nonetheless, the funky organization hopes to eventually become a summertime attraction in a revitalized Pioneer Avenue business district.

The Farmer's Market provides a bit of a business incubator for the growers and artisans involved, while at the same time it improves the ambiance and makes for a more vibrant shopping district, Roufa said.

No matter how you look at it, she added, "there's just nothing controversial about trying to sell your vegetables."

And for now that's the primary goal as the market will continue at its parking-friendly Ocean Drive location.

If you're salivating for fresh-picked veggies already, have some patience, because like the Alaska summer, the Homer Farmers Market is traditionally a slow starter. Shoppers can expect radishes, some of the green leafy vegetables and house and bedding plants. But eventually, as the season progresses, the outdoor market will offer a wider variety of goodies, from cilantro to pumpkins to beets to potatoes to tomatoes.