Oak Harbor Public Market offers sweet treats, fresh produce

Courtney Wells, center, urges a customer at the Oak Harbor Public Market to try one of the Sakuma Bros. strawberries on sale May 31 as her sister, Mikaela Rowe, looks on.  - Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times
Courtney Wells, center, urges a customer at the Oak Harbor Public Market to try one of the Sakuma Bros. strawberries on sale May 31 as her sister, Mikaela Rowe, looks on.
— image credit: Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times

The smells wafting through the air Thursday afternoons in Oak Harbor are tantalizing, an easy indicator that farmers market season is in full swing in Island County.

This year marks the 18th year for the Oak Harbor Public Market, held from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday from May through September.

“We’re about on par for the first weeks of the season,” said market manager Peg Tennant. “It starts slow and ramps up, because that’s the way nature works.”

“I have been doing great,” said Jessica Fisher, who sells home baked goodies and food mixes at her booth. “This week is a little slower, but the last two weeks were really sunny, so we had a great turnout.”

Fisher, who uses her grandmother’s recipes to create her breads, rolls, scones and more, is carrying on a family tradition.

“My grandmother used to sell here,” she said.

However, due to changes in the rules governing home kitchens, Fisher, who has been a vendor at the Oak Harbor Public Market for three years, said this will be her last year selling her baked goods.

“If you like your home bakers, buy’em this year, because we don’t know what next year will bring,” said Tennant, adding that two home bakers have already pulled out of the market this year because of the upcoming rule changes.

The Sugar Queens, on the other hand, are just getting started with their confection business. Navy spouse Samantha Gates and her mother, Sheila O’Neill, were making their very first appearance at a farmers market last week, filling their booth with cookies, cupcakes, cake pops and other mouth-watering goodies.

“Since she was 14 this has always been her dream, to be a baker,” said O’Neill.

“This is our first day and our first market,” Gates said. “It’s going good.”

It was also the first time at the Oak Harbor Public Market for Sakuma Bros., berry and tea growers from Burlington. Their tables were filled with baskets of freshly-picked Albion strawberries, along with preserves and syrups.

“This is our first day here,” said Courtney Wells. “We did not expect it to be this busy.”

Chandler Hanson, 17, from Alabama, was in town visiting family. She was lured in by the free strawberry samples and said she quite liked Oak Harbor’s market.

“It’s fun,” she said. “There’s lots of people.”

Gretchen Hanson, also here visiting family, is from Arizona, where farmers markets are plentiful.

“I go every weekend in Arizona,” she said. “We have a lot of the same types of things, but we’re just getting out of our growing season and you are just coming into it.”

According to Tennant, last week’s market included radishes, garlic, green onions, many different salad greens, spinach, asparagus and shelling peas.

“We have what local farmers grow,” she said, adding that some shoppers come to the farmers market expecting the same produce available in grocery stores.

“We don’t have bananas,” Tennant said with a laugh. “Because bananas don’t grow on Whidbey. It helps when people have an idea of what grows here and when it’s ready.

“The next wave will be the berries, then garlic, onions and potatoes,” she continued. “Basically, ask your farmers when they’re going to have what —- they’ll be happy to tell you.”

The weather has also had an impact on the market.

“The berries are going to be later than what used to be normal,” Tennant said. “And I would not hold my breath for Whidbey Island sweet corn this year. There’s been no sun. It’s gotta get hot.”

If necessary, Tennant said the market will bring in some produce from the other side of the mountains to add variety. And, as the growing season ramps up and more farmers bring their produce to the market, more craft and other vendors will be added to the mix. Tennant encourages people to shop the public market weekly, no matter what Mother Nature does.

“Remember, you won’t melt in the rain,” she laughed. “We’re here rain or shine.”


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