Beyond the Plate: The Asian lowdown on Seattle’s farmers markets

By Tiffany Ran

Produce stand at Pike Place Market (Photo by Tiffany Ran/NWAW)

While I was enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Broadway Farmers Market, it occurred to me to follow up on NWAW’s first installment of “Beyond the Plate” with one on farmers markets. Many Asians I’ve spoken with have admitted to feeling removed or uninterested in farmers markets. Some complained about the high cost of organic produce, while others admitted to feeling intimidated by the overwhelming breadth of Western produce.

Take a quick look at the markets abroad and it’s undeniable that Asians care about fresh food as much as any Seattleite. As for our local markets, fear not dear readers, the wonderful world of local farmers markets will be twice as great with my handy Asian-themed market guide.

Locally grown zucchini (Photo by Albert Liu)

Did I mention that the idea (epiphany!) for this month’s column came to me while having the most amazing Malaysian noodles from Kedai Makan, Broadway Farmers Market’s very own Malaysian street food stall? Let’s not forget that the equally authentic Thai street food stand, Little Uncle in Capitol Hill, had a home in its early days at the Columbia City Farmers Market.

With that food for thought, let’s start at Seattle’s most renowned year-round farmers market, the Pike Place Market, where an artful banner at its entrance commemorates the Japanese American farmers that once occupied two-thirds of the stalls at the famous market. Though Asian farmers at farmers markets are no longer as prevalent as they were back then, much of the best products found at local farmers markets are offered by a small group of Asian farmers.

(Above and below) Art murals from Pike Place Market commemorating Japanese farmers who once occupied two-thirds of the stalls at Pike Place

(Photos by Tiffany Ran/NWAW)

Found at many of the farmers markets around town, Sidhu Farms offers Washington’s best berries. At Pike Place Market, Maika Xiong has been selling beautiful bouquets of seasonal flowers from her eye-catching stand since 1992. Her in-laws were among the first Hmong farmers to sell at the market. Sweet Coconut Bakery, offering Filipino and American pastries, make the rounds each week between the Renton, Queen Anne, and Des Moines farmers markets. At the U-District Farmers Market, Japanese American rancher Eiko Vojkovich and her husband George offer grass-fed beef and sustainably raised chickens, pork, and eggs. George is also known to carry the occasional beef tongue and offal parts for those recreating special Asian dishes. To score one of those delicacies, your best bet is to call or e-mail ahead of time.

Those feeling left out by the lack of Asian produce available at local farmers markets will be surprised to find Asian greens, ginger, and chestnuts from Mair Farm-Taki, at U-District’s Farmers Market. When in season, Asian pears, bok choy, pea sprouts, bean sprouts, and other Asian produce are now common staples at local farmers market stalls. Most notably, Rockridge Orchards and Cidery — at Columbia City, Bellevue, U-District, Ballard, and West Seattle farmers markets — may be the only known cidery growing fresh bamboo shoots (mind blown).

Locally grown blueberries (Photo by Albert Liu)

Yet, an Asian-themed market guide cannot be without acknowledging the forefathers that paved the way for tilling and eating from the rich fertile soils of the area — the past Japanese American strawberry farmers of Bellevue and the Asian refugees who brought their knowledge of farming to Washington’s farmlands. A notable farmer that comes to mind as I write this is the famed Bainbridge Island farmer Akio Suyematsu, a raspberry farmer who passed away earlier this month. Suyematsu’s farm is one of Bainbridge Island’s longest operating farms.

And if the price tag is a deterrent, low-income families will now have equal access to local organic produce through the Fresh Bucks pilot program, a program that doubles the value of purchases made with EBT cards at select farmers markets. On that note, happy summer eating to all! (end)

Tiffany Ran can be reached at

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