Local farmers markets cultivate community

Friday, June 23, 2017 - 17:14
  • The Peters Creek Farmers Market kicks off for the year June 1, 2017. The seasonal market, located at the American Legion Post 33 at 21426 Old Glenn Highway, donates all booth rental proceeds to local veterans benefits. (Swann photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Salsa for sale at the Peters Creek Farmers Market June 1, 2017. The seasonal market, located at the American Legion Post 33 at 21426 Old Glenn Highway, donates all booth rental proceeds to local veterans benefits. (Swann photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Stephen Tracy, a vendor at the Peters Creek Farmers Market, sit at his booth June 1, 2017. The seasonal market is located at the American Legion Post 33 at 21426 Old Glenn Highway. (Swann photo by Kirsten Swann)

At the Peters Creek Farmers Market, even the homemade salsa comes with a story.

On the summertime market’s June 1 opening day, Stephen Tracy sold his fruity variety studded with jalepenos. A few booths away, Tom Bergey sold Larry’s Salsa, a recipe developed more than 30 years ago by an old-timer out in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough — a recipe once available exclusively at a farmers market in Willow.

“I sold next to Larry for years, and just weeks before he passed, he said, ‘Do you want to buy the recipes?’ and I said, ‘Sure,’” said Bergey, a Mat-Su vegetable farmer. “We didn’t realize, Larry was kind of a paranoid bugger, and he was worried about somebody getting in to his recipes. So he altered every one.”

Larry died before revealing his true secrets, leaving Bergey with a batch of the original salsa and a pack of inaccurate recipes. It took about three months to crack the code, Bergey said. He threw out plenty of batches in between. Finally, his version of Larry’s Salsa passed the taste test at the Willow market. Now you can find it at markets from the Mat-Su to Eagle River.

Every Thursday afternoon, all summer long, the Peters Creek market transforms the parking lot of American Legion Post 33 into an oasis of local flavor.

The first market day of 2017 featured cupcakes, jars of candied jalepenos, flowers, fresh vegetables, homemade kitchen accessories and thrift-store finds.

“I love the quaintness of it, and the fact that everything is homemade and authentic,” said Eagle River resident Melody Eickmann, visiting the farmers market with her daughter Thursday afternoon.

They purchased handmade cotton dish towels and a kid’s travel activity kit for an upcoming trip to Ohio. Other customers browsed racks of beaded jewelry, tables laden with potted plants and jars of pickled and processed fruits and vegetables.

Susan Boarland established the market years ago. Proceeds from the $15 weekly vendor booth fees purchase Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for local veterans, she said, and the whole thing is a community effort. These days, Boarland runs it with the aid of vendors and a few other American Legion volunteers.

“We all help each other,” said Boarland, 81. “I have to sit down every so often and let my back quit hurting.”

Cheryl Smith helps keep the market running smoothly, Boarland said. This year, in exchange for free booth space, another vendor – Peters Creek resident Stephen Tracy — is hanging the market signs on the sides of the road.

“It’s like a family,” Tracy said on opening day.

The market is one of two in Chugiak-Eagle River, with the Eagle River Farmers Market held Tuesdays in the VFW parking lot. That market is scheduled to kick off Tuesday, June 6.

Many vendors hit both locations, Tracy said.

“Pretty much all of us do the Eagle River market, too.”

They also share goods and services: Tracy grows jalepenos, Boarland candies them and Tracy bakes them into brownies and chocolate upside down cake.

It’s his second season selling at the local farmers market. Besides salsa and jalepeno baked goods, his booth features rows of vintage t-shirts, salvaged household items and other curiousities.

“I’m a thrift store junkie, and this is a good place to get rid of it,” Tracy said, standing behind a booth filled with odds and ends. “Everything you see here came out of a thrift store somewhere in Anchorage or Eagle River or Wasilla.”

The market size varies. On the first afternoon of the season, about half a dozen vendors lined one side of the legion parking lot. On busy days, organizers said, the market has seen as many as 15 booths.

Customers come and go, but the camaraderie is constant.

“If we don’t sell anything, at least you see friends and make friends,” Boarland said.

The weekly Peters Creek market takes place Thursdays throughout the summer from 3 – 7 p.m. in the American Legion Post 33 parking lot in Peters Creek (21426 Old Glenn Highway). The Eagle River Farmers Market, scheduled to kick off June 6, takes place Tuesdays from 3 – 7 p.m. at the Eagle River VFW (10527 VFW Road).

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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