Jason Whalen celebrated the first-ever farmers market in Pierce County’s second-largest city with a Breeto’s Hawaiian shave ice, a sunrise of syrups drizzled with condensed milk.
On Tuesday, the Lakewood city councilman strolled along the path around City Hall with Mayor Doug Richardson, Councilwoman Marie Barth and about 500 of Lakewood’s happiest residents.
Lyn and Ruth Gracy waved their purchase at the elected trio.
“Cherries!” Richardson called back. “Bing bing!”
Mary Anne Haines stopped Barth.
“There’s a mix of things that appeals to everyone. That’s why I called my husband to get down here,” she said, pointing from Lenny Kirkland’s LAK Woodworks to her husband, Hal.
“This has been a labor of love,” Whelan said as more shoppers than anyone expected drifted among the stalls. “I have always wanted to create a sense of place. We have a city hall, but we don’t have a defined city center feel. We want something that makes people want to come to the area.”
Lakewood City Hall is pleasant to look at and a convenient place to pay a ticket.
It’s a nerve center, but until Tuesday, it lacked a heart.
City leaders suspected a farmers market would jolt some life into the space. Ever since farmers markets have been tempting people into squares, streets and parks in Tacoma and Puyallup, Lakewood residents have asked officials when theirs was coming.
“In February, we threw out the net,” said Mary Dodsworth, Lakewood’s parks and recreation director. “We asked anyone interested in a farmers market to come to a meeting at 4 p.m. on a Friday.”
That should have been enough to kill the project, but 20 people showed.
“It was a real mix of people,” Dodsworth said, “There were vendors, seniors, service organizations and people who just wanted to buy lettuce.”
On Tuesday, people wanted to buy a lot of lettuce. By 1 p.m., Scott Chang of Dau Lee Gardens in Fall City was out of butter lettuce.
“We’re waiting on our beets,” he said. “As the season goes on, we’ll have a lot more variety.
At that February meeting, Dodsworth said the city didn’t have staff to research other market rules, permits and regulations, dates, times and vendors.
“This is the part where you volunteer,” she told the assembled 20 people, “or it isn’t going to happen.”
She assigned them tasks and gave them two weeks.
“The big test was whether they would show up at the next meeting,” she said. “There were 20 again, not all the same 20, but we had enough information and expertise, so we made a plan for a pilot project. We were a team. That’s how we do things in Lakewood. And here we are. Yay!”
Without extra staff, and with $5,000 in lodging tax revenue, they launched the city’s first farmers market with 24 vendors and a happy balance of flowers, plants, vegetables, pie, honey, seeds from Lakewold Gardens, massages, soaps, fancy aprons, bejeweled spoons, pet treats and made-in-Lakewood furniture.
Dodsworth found a bouquet of sweet peas for a friend. Farmers markets make it easy to be nice.
Not that everything was perfect on the first day.
“Garbage cans are woefully lacking,” said Don Roberts, who refused to litter and kept looking.
“If they could take debit cards, that would be nice,” said Darlene Parkerson. “I didn’t bring a lot of cash with me. But I will next week.”
It was a great day for phlox at Graham’s Sunrise Flower Farm, but vendor Andy Housler wanted more competition.
“The only thing this one is going to need is a better mix of farmers,” he said, adding that he planned to tell his friends to get on down with their goods.
Naira Shin, 6, didn’t miss more farmers. She liked the visiting dogs, the fountain, the music, the colors.
“Cool! Awesome in the world!” she said to her mom, Lely. “Next year will they have another one?”
Mom smiled. “They’ll have another one next week.”