Sunday, August 4th: It's National Farmers Market Week! Tomatillos, Eggplant, Cherry Plums & All Manner Of August Localiciousness!

Farm-fresh honey from Boistfort Valley Farm. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons. Hey kids! It's National Farmers Market Week! Yes, a special week proclaimed by dignitaries, elected officials and bureaucrats that actually celebrates something that matters to us. Go figure. But hey, sooner or later, it had to happen, right? So come celebrate with us today. Now, I won't bore you with lots of proclamations from the governor, the county executive and the mayor -- and trust me, they've all issued them -- no let's celebrate with all the amazing local products and people who bring us our precious Ballard Farmers Market week in and week out, year-round, in rain, sleet, snow, sun, wind, hot and cold. We are more reliable, after all, than the postal service. And let's start this party by honoring perhaps the most important beings in our local, and global for that matter, food system: honey bees. Without them, we would all starve. Really. And yet we silly humans are creating environmental conditions that are killing honey bees by the millions. What can you do? Eat organic. Stop using pesticides. Raise your own honey bees. Pay attention. You wonder why we have less honey in our farmers markets today than we did five years ago? That's why.

Jim Robinson of Phocas Farms shows how his saffron crocuses have multiplied over the winter. Photo copyright 2010 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Your Ballard Farmers Market is loaded with lots of characters who, out of a labor of love, a love of creating delicious food and quality goods, and a love of community, come here every week at 0-dark-30 from all over Washington to set up their tents and tables while you are still asleep, just so you will be able to stock up on their seasonal goodness every Sunday. One such character is Jim Robinson from Phocas Farms in Port Angeles. Jim may be best known around the Market for his hundreds of varieties of succulents and his wild appearance, but he is best known by Western Washington's finest chefs for the incredible saffron he grows.

Saffron? Yes. It is so prized by local chefs that his entire crop is pre-sold every year before it is even harvested. And yet Jimmy is quite tall -- not the best physical characteristic for raising a crop that demands one to be hunched over down low most of the time. Plus, he and the sun don't get along all that well. You may have noticed that he is always covered head-to-toe at the Market, save for his face, which is a ghostly white. That white is industrial strength sunscreen, because Jim has light-sensitive lupus. And yet, he busts his hump year-round raising beautiful plants and spectacular saffron, then stands under his tent -- outdoors in the daylight -- every Sunday with nary a whimper, but instead a laugh, a smile, a flirtatious expression and a firm embrace. Why? Cuz he loves what he does and where he does it -- right here at your Ballard Farmers Market. Kinda makes it hard not to love the guy, or this place. Oh, hey, speaking of saffron, Jimmy has saffron corms for you this week, and for the next few. The chefs in town may not have left any of his saffron for you, but you can still plant and grow your own. Get them in the ground this month, and you will have your very own saffron later this fall!

Japanese eggplant from Alvarez Organic Farms. Photo copyright 2012 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Alvarez Organic Farms has their first Japanese eggplant today, along with about a half dozen other kinds of eggplant. They have also just begun harvesting tomatoes, okra and tomatillos, too. You know, it’s kinda funny, but some folks have been thinking that eggplant is late in arriving this year. In reality, it is right on schedule, and just everything else is early, making its arrival appear late by comparison. Go figure. I love grilling these beauties. I slice them down the middle and salt them about half an hour before I grill them to pull some of the bitterness out. And make sure to coat them well with olive oil. Mmm.

Janelle Stokesberry holding a chicken and a dozen eggs from Stokesberry Sustainable Farm in Olympia. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

You ever wonder why the Seahawks are so much better lately than any of the other professional sports teams in Seattle? Is it maybe because they eat Stokesberry chickens, perhaps? It's as good a theory as any, I suppose. Janelle & Jerry Stokesberry raise organic chicken, turkey and duckeggs, beefpork and lamb on their Stokesberry Sustainable Farm in Olympia. I can't wait until they have stewing hens, because I love to make chicken soup with them. And their chickens and ducks, as well as their eggs, can be found on the menus of many of the best restaurants in Seattle. Have you tried the sausages made from their pork by Link Lab Artisan Meats? They are great. And I've personally visited their pigs happily slopping through the mud in the spring, little piglets chasing each other around all over the place. Hilarious. If you want your meat and poultry raised well by farmers who care about their animals, and that tastes good, too, they've got you covered.

Rubels blueberries from Whitehorse Meadows Farm. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

These are Rubels blueberries from Whitehorse Meadows Farm. They are a domesticated wild huckleberry from the East Coast. The berries are small and full of flavor, and they remind me of the wild blueberries we used to pick while hiking up Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park. I remember I used to eat my weight in them.

George Vojkovich out standing in his field... with a bunch of cattle. Photo copyright 2007 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Look! It's Farmer George Vojokovich of Skagit River Ranch, out standing in his field. That's him in the upper-lefthand side of the photo. And he is that. Outstanding in his field. His pasture alone in this photo can testify to that. It is lush and green and up to the shoulders of his cattle. And this photo was taken in August! He lets them eat it down to about 6", and then he moves them to the next pasture. The idea is that the cattle will eat a diversity of forage, not just their favorite ones, and the pasture will recover faster and be healthier. That keeps them healthy, and tasty. And that's what makes George a dirt farmer more so than a rancher.

Farmer George is also nothing short of a scientist -- you really have to be in this business -- and he tests his animals to make sure they are getting all the nutrients and minerals they need. After all, the Skagit River Valley is low in a number of key minerals. So, based on the reports he gets, he actually adds minerals either to the pastureland, so it is taken up by the forage, or he puts out self-service stations where the cattle can actually stock up on what they need. They're a bit smarter than us when it comes to that. The result of all this is some of the best beef you can find around here, and certainly better than anything you'll find in the big box stores. Better, and better for you and the cattle.

Copia heirloom tomatoes from One Leaf Farm. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

One Leaf Farm is really cranking out the heirloom tomatoes now in a whole host of varieties (see the photo spread on our Facebook page). Just take a gander at these gorgeous copia tomatoes for instance. They are a rainbow of colors and the big ones are all kinda weird looking, but hey, they taste absolutely incredible. To quote Chef Gordon Ramsay, "they are the most amazing, stunning tomatoes ever." Okay, he didn't really say that, but those seem to be the only two adjectives he knows, and I've been wanting to give him a hard time about it for a long time. Chef, get thee a thesaurus, for the love of Mike! You're welcome. But do beeline it to One Leaf for tomatoliciousness right now.

Roberto Guerrero from ACMA Mission Orchards. Photo copyright 2013 by Nicole Reed.

Meet Roberto Guerrero of ACMA Mission Orchards in Quincy. He and his family grow a stunning variety of tree fruit, from apples to peaches to cherries to nectarines, on their beautiful farm just north of the Gorge Amphitheater. And just in the last two years, they secured organic certification for all of their acreage. How can you tell an orchard is organic? Simple. Look at the undergrowth under the trees. Do you see all that grass and brush? That's the sign of an organic orchard. Seriously. They are overgrown under the trees, and most go through and mow and grind up brush just a few times each year. Then, they leave the debris right there to decompose, returning nutrients to the soil and keeping out undesirable weeds that conventional farms would have to sprayed. Plus, it helps keep the ground moist and cool when it's really hot over there. You may see a jungle in this photo. I see a healthy orchard producing delicious fruit!

Honey Smoked Albacore from Fishing Vessel St. Jude. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Fishing Vessel St. Jude makes its monthly visit to your Ballard Farmers Market today. Woohoo! I often feel like Bubba Gump when I start to list off all the delectable forms in which you can acquire St. Jude's albacore tuna. They have it cannedfresh-frozen, jerkied, and even honey-smoked (above). The canned comes in a myriad of wonderful flavors, too, and the frozen is sashimi grade. Stock up today. We won't see them again until Labor Day Weekend!

Cardamom Zucchini Sweet Bread from NuFlours gluten-free bakery. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Name change alert! d:floured gluten-free bakery (my favorite saucy name for a bakery, mind you) has changed its name to nuflours. Apparently, someone else had their grubby paws all over their old name. So, many lawyers and much research later, they now have a new, not-so-saucy but equally functionally name, with the same logo and same great gluten-free products. Like this cardamom zucchini sweet bread that features zucchini from Stoney Plains Organic Farm. The point is, regardless of the name, you can still have your cake and your gluten-free diet, too.

Dragon's Tongue beans from Growing Things Farm. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Growing Things Farm is deep in the fresh beans right now. They have six different varieties, ranging from green to yellow wax to purple runner to these Dragon’s Tongue beans, above. And did you know that Dragon’s Tongue beans will eventually grown about to be shelling beans, too? Pretty cool, huh? And delicious! Oh, and they want to thank you for supporting their successful Kick Starter campaign, too.

Green bell peppers from Lyall Farms. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

It’s pepper season, and over the coming weeks, we will see an ever-increasing variety of peppers arriving at your Ballard Farmers Market. We start off with these humble green bell peppers from Lyall Farms, and we are already seeing some of the over 200 varieties of peppers grown by Alvarez Organic Farms starting to appear this week. 2013 is on pace to be an epic year for peppers!

Cherry plums from Tiny's Organic Produce. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

From the pages of the confused fruit handbook come these cherry plums from Tiny's Organic Farm. But unlike so many other stone fruits that have been hybridized to create things like apriums, pluots, nectarcots, peachcots and more, cherry plums are actually a true plum, not a cross betwixt cherry and plum. They get their name from their small, cherry-like size and their color. But they have the flavor and texture of a plum. So mix it up this week and try yourself something new... or actually old, in this case.

Tropea onions from Oxbow Farm. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Ah. The lovely and divine tropea onion. I love these beauties. And I do recall hearing the lovely and divine Alice of Oxbow Farm (the growers of these onions) say that they are, in fact, her favorite onion. Named for the town of Tropea on the toe of Italy's boot, these sweet onions are so popular in Italy that they are synonymous with "red onion" there, though that would be confusing here in the states, with the many red varieties we have. But if everyone just tried one of these, in salads, on the grill, sautéed or cooked down to make an awesome sauce or garnish, perhaps they would become synonymous with red onions here, too, because they may indeed be the best of the reds.

Chocolate-Coconut Fudge from Pete's Perfect Toffee. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Pete's Perfect Toffee has introduced yet another flavor of fudge, because after all, there is no such thing as too much fudge. The new flavor, pictured above, is chocolate-coconut fudge with toasted almonds. Oh, stop it, Pete! You're killing me... with sweet deliciousness!

Hand-forged blue steele pans from Blu Skillet. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

"Carbon steel pans are great for searing and caramelizing - and they make fantastic over-easy eggs! They are similar to cast iron, but forged rather than cast. This makes the pans lighter and easier to handle, as well as less porous and quicker to season.  They can take high temperatures, and they can go from stove top, to oven, to table - where they make a beautiful addition!" Sometimes, it is just easier to quote the vendor's website, you know? Especially when it is as well-written as is the site for Blu Skillet Ironware. Patrick Maher and Caryn Badgett make these gorgeous pans right here in Ballard.

I do most of my cooking on stainless steel pans from Revere Ware. When they were first introduced in 1938, Revere Copper & Brass made a point of referring to them as exhibiting the best of both form and function, and that was important after the Great Depression. After all, if you were going to spend money on cookware, you want it to last, you want it to work, and you want something you can show off to your dinner guests. And today, as we limp our way out of the Great Recession (because even though it was, in fact, a depression, apparently it is not cool anymore to actually call it that), things are no different. We want quality, form and function. Blu Skillet gives us just that. I have been putting one of their 10" pans through its paces for a week now, cooking everything from halibut to corned beef hash in it, and it works great. It is getting more seasoned with ever use. It browns and sears great. It cleans easily. And best of all, it is made right here. Yup, one more thing you don't need Corporate America to do for you anymore! Booyah!

There is plenty more local deliciousness waiting for you today at your Ballard Farmers Market. Just check What’s Fresh Now! for a more complete accounting of what is in season right now.

Please remember bring your own bags every Sunday, as Seattle’s single-use plastic bag ban is now in effect. Also, please take note of our new green composting and blue recycling waste receptacles throughout your Ballard Farmers Market, and please make an effort to use them correctly. Each container has what’s okay to put in it pictured right on the lid. Please do not put the wrong materials in, because that drives up the cost of recycling and composting, and it can result in the entire container being sent instead to a landfill. Your understanding and cooperation are appreciated.