The Central Peninsula Farmers Market has been providing a place for local growers to sell their locally grown produce for some 20 years thanks to the efforts of the late Warren Larsen and other Alaska grown enthusiasts like Carolyn Chapman of Soldotna. “He had a dream of a local farmers market and getting people to grow produce locally. Warren was a part of the Cooperative Extension Service and put a steering committee together with Peggy Mullen and other gardening enthusiasts and they got together and got it started,” said Chapman. Carolyn recalls the first location was the Soldotna Police parking lot.
Two decades later the local Saturday Farmers Market is stronger than ever with the advent of high tunnels and health movement toward eating foods that are grown in season where you live. “With the high tunnels you find things sooner, greener and larger than before at the market,” added Chapman who was excited to have University of Alaska Fairbanks Chef Michael Roddey come to the market to demonstrate how to cook locally grown produce. “He drew quite a crowd and was what he cooked up worth waiting for and so simple to do, I learned a lot,” she said.
As the kale crackled in Chef Roddey’s skillet with nothing more than a little oil, salt, pepper and a locally grown Asian green for seasoning a delicious aroma wisped through the air that drew kids as well adults around his table waiting for a taste. “My purpose for being down here is to show how we are able to take the wonderful produce that is being grown locally and turn into something delicious. Sometimes various items that you aren’t familiar with can be intimidating to people because they don’t know what to do with it or feel that they won’t like it so today I showed folks how they can put pea and kohlrabi salad together, sweet and sour cabbage, sautéed kale and put these wonderful fresh ingredients in front of your family, do it easily and have them asking for more. It’s the whole farm-to-table concept that we are promoting so we don’t loose touch with the farmer,” explained Chef Roddey. In talking with the ever increasing crowd gathering at the Farmers Market he also talked about how the concept reduces the carbon footprint of transportation necessary and increases the nutritional value of the food while lowering costs to the consumer, “We’re creatures of habit that’s why there’s a whole philosophy behind sustainability about having a smaller refrigerator so you can’t put as many things in it and compelling you to purchase things more often eat fresher and less likely to waste or have things spoil,” he said. According to Roddey he has been interested in the food industry since he was twelve years old and started busing tables and washing tables, “I found my niche early in life and I continued on that path until I found myself in Fairbanks because of the opportunity to elevate a program at UAF and provide a better education opportunity for the student. As far as recipes think of them as a guideline but with local ingredients you can be simple and creative, simple salt, pepper, sweet, sour, heat can go a long way and I encourage people with methods of simple food done right for which you don’t need a lot of ingredients,” said Roddey.
According to Chapman vendors may start setting up at 9:00am every Saturday in Soldotna at the lot in front of Soldotna Elementary School off the Spur Highway, but sales don’t open until 10:00am and continue until 2:00pm. Every one is welcome to bring their produce or items for sale and there is a small membership and vendors fee.