In a big city, you feel its pulse — the throb of traffic, the cacophony of languages, the warm glow of lights at night.
But in a small town, like Coeur d’Alene, you feel its heartbeat. The pace is slow and convivial, strangers chat with each other, kids and dogs are as common as sunshine and puffy white clouds.
My favorite way to dive into everything that is North Idaho is to spend a balmy Wednesday afternoon at the Kootenai Farmers Market in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
Music fills the air and over 100 vendors line Fifth Avenue from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. selling everything from baskets to birdhouses, books, pasta, pies, peonies, paella, paintings. OK, I got a little carried away there, but you get the idea.
I can’t help it, I just smile as I wander along shopping for next week’s menu. Much hard work and dedication has produced this array of food, everything is plump and shiny and beautifully displayed in heaps of red and yellow and green. More than once, I’ve brought out-of-town guests here and we’ve gleefully chosen the evening’s dinner, chatting with the growers as we pick out vegetables, meat, bread and sweets.
And talking to the growers and food crafters is as much fun as sampling their wares. Paul Smith and Ellen Scriven of Killarney Farm have been with the farmers market since the beginning 35 years ago. Their Rose Lake, off-the-grid homestead and 6-acre organic farm flourishes surrounded by national forest. You’ll find luscious produce here along with exotic things like mixed Asian greens, Romanesco broccoli and shiso.
Meanwhile, on a surprisingly smaller scale, Matt Hopkins operates his Coeur d’Alene micro farm Ursa Minor on a 400 square-foot home garden plot and basement hydronic operation. A veteran of over a decade in the food service industry, Matt wanted to break out on his own in a slightly different direction and recently joined the farmers market. Ask him about their Sassy Salad Mix.
For Hoa Lor, growing stunningly beautiful flowers and luscious produce is a family affair. For over ten years, he and his wife and six children have operated Lor Garden near the Idaho-Washington state line. He says it’s to keep the kids out of trouble but judging form their beaming faces, they don’t look too troublesome. And I think they’re learning a great deal about the value of hard work and how to make their way in the world. Among the flowers and produce, you’ll see two types of radishes at Lor Garden’s stall. Find out which one is super spicy and give it a try.
In search of affordable land closer to family, Alan Wright says he and Kelsey Racicot found a mountain paradise in Bayview, Idaho and they settled and began building Rugged Roots Farm. Passionate about homesteading and farming, they produce vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit using their own compost and the no-till, no chemical method.
Krysta Froberg proves it’s possible to grow something succulent far from a homestead. She cultivates Happy Mountain Mushrooms in her indoor garden home on Spokane’s South Hill. Exotic, colorful and full of flavor, these mushrooms are grown not only for cooking but also for medicinal purposes.
O Romeo Pasta Company has a cute logo and a great story about how it got its name, just ask owner, pasta maven Karen Lauritzen. Second grade schoolteacher nine months out of the year, she is devoting her summers to making the most colorful, interesting pastas I have ever seen. Beets and spinach are just two of the ingredients that color her products and she also rolls out vegan and gluten pasta.
If the produce and food items at the Kootenai Farmers Market are pure and made with love, the handicrafts are created with passion and imagination. Art, clothing and gifts are distinctive and wonderfully personal. This is where I buy a present for the friend who has everything or the woman with with picky tastes.
At Nature’s Hair Claws, creator Eli Lawrie is showing a young girl how to wrap her hair into a twist and secure it with one of Eli’s beautiful wooden combs. Women have been using hair combs since the ancient times, she tells me, and she learned the craft from her mother. Exotic hardwoods and recovered antlers with two, three or four prongs can grasp hair in an amazingly firm bun, ponytail or updo.
Nearby, Juaquetta Holcomb wears one of her handknitted shawls, its bright colors and cozy wool are perfect for an afternoon that is beginning to cool off. Her business, Garden Party Fibers, has been at the Kootenai County Farmers Market for 14 seasons, selling her handspun alpaca and wool yarn as well the knitted, crocheted and woven hats, shawls and scarves that she creates.
“I love meeting all the people who come to our market and helping customers choose yarn, hats or shawls,” Juaquetta says. “And all the other market vendors. We come together from different walks of life and work together to make our market the best one around.”
“One of my painted rocks went to Bali!” says Kathy Hanson of Kathy’s Kreations. “I’m taking one home to Minnesota,” adds a visitor browsing Kathy’s array of plaques, cards, magnets and rocks that she has painted with everything from iconic Idaho scenes to whimsical animals, birds and people.
Dyed with love is how Nancy Olfs explains Trilogy Yarn’s array of hand-dyed yarns. Beautiful loops of yarn in every imaginable color from fuchsia to chocolate brown are heaped on her table along with delicate shawls and scarves.
If you spend an afternoon at the Kootenai Farmers Market in downtown Coeur d’Alene, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for the skill, dedication, knowledge and passion that goes into creating bountiful food and beautiful crafts. It makes me appreciate where I live even more than usual.
Ask any vendor why they like to sell at a farmers market and their answers will echo Eli Lawrie from Nature’s Hair Claws.
“The best part of the market?” Eli says. “The people–definitely! In the pleasant evening air, with the live band playing, how could a delightful mix of tourists and locals not be the best part?”
Hours: 4 pm to 7 pm, May through September
Sherman Ave. & Fifth St.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho