Inslee Proclaims Self 2nd Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich Maker In Family, August 6-12 Washington Farmers Market Week

By Will O’Donnell

“Kansas has some wheat and Idaho has some small potatoes… but here in Washington we have everything. Wheat, potatoes… crabs, wine…”

Gov. Jay Inslee told me this as he sat on a park bench in a shady corner of the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market with his wife Trudi. In between interruptions for handshakes, high fives, wisecracks, and free cups of locally roasted Ethiopian coffee, the governor expounded on why Washington agriculture is the best in world and why he and Trudi love coming to their hometown farmers market.

Gov. Jay Inslee chats with WSFMA ED Will O'Donnnell

Gov. Jay Inslee chats with WSFMA ED Will O’Donnnell at the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market.

“It’s the heartbeat,” Jay said, “it’s where our friends are. Everybody that attends the market, they’re smiling.”

“It helps the local farmers be sustainable,” said Trudi. “it’s the best thing we’ll do all day.”

The Inslees have been coming to the Bainbridge Island for more than 20 years. Trudi says she attends the Olympia Farmers Market too when they stay at the Capitol, but she likes to be on Island and at the market as often as she can. On this visit she was on the hunt for bouquets of sweet peas, golden beets, and fresh eggs. Heirloom tomatoes made their way into her bag as well.

Trudi offered up a recipe for those golden beets during our chat, a family favorite, with swiss chard. Sautéed. A farmers market recipe if ever there was one. She also loves to make rhubarb pie. Jay said he loves to eat it. The Governor offered up a recipe for a single Washington apple. Cut in half. Maybe core it. Eat it raw. He was in a good mood. He also declared himself the second best grilled cheese sandwich maker in the family.

“Close 2nd behind Trudi.” He clarified. I didn’t call any of his 3 grown sons to verify the claim. And anyway I was hoping to stay in the Governor’s good graces. As director of the Washington State Farmers Market Association, I wanted to take pictures of him at the market and get some nice quotes about why they’re important. And I wanted him to proclaim August 6-12th Washington Farmers Market Week, which he did, on Aug 2nd. US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue declared the same week National Farmers Market Week the day after. State of Washington FTW again.

What exactly is Farmers Market Week? I am not sure. It was already going before I got this job, but I take it as an official acknowledgement of the important role farmers markets play in our food systems and community. And our economy. Me personally, I have been making my living from farmers markets for the last 20 years. I started off selling at one, then running one, and now I am responsible for representing over a hundred of them all across the state. My parents still aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

They aren’t alone. When I ran one farmers market people would ask me if it was a paid job. I’d say yes, full time. When their eyebrows raised skeptically, I’d tell them sales at the market I worked for were over a million dollars. In 2016 our market association of 111 members recorded sales of $47milllion. Over the last fifteen years, our farmers markets have generated nearly $500 million dollars in Washington State. There are over 1000 Washington farms sell at markets across the state, in 25 counties and 88 cities or towns, from Raymond to Richland, Colville to Camas, Bellingham to… Ok you get the picture.

Bellingham to Burien! Sorry, it took me a second, but I couldn’t resist.

I like to throw these big numbers around to make my job sound more impressive than it is. But those numbers are impressive, and I am proud of the success our markets have had here in Washington State. Not only do they generate income for small and direct farmers, independent entrepreneurs, and local communities, farmers markets serve as community gathering places. Farmers markets have helped revitalize neighborhoods and even whole towns. Developers across the state are building farmers markets in to their master plans, to attract potential buyers. I visited one in Spokane, and was consulted about another in Tacoma.

Farmers markets aren’t all highfalutin though. Despite Portlandia parodies, and internet jokes about artisan toast or artisan firewood, farmers markets are in general, pretty humble. I just attended the Okanogan Valley Farmers Market, which has some of the best fruit in the state, takes place in a lovely tree-lined park along the river, and has not a trace of pomposity. A craggy older farmer sold cantaloupes out of laundry baskets, he’d sniff them to let customers the exact day they’d be ripe. I bought a “tomorrow.” The market’s manager had a tent setup in the corner with kids activities. It was staffed by the county WIC coordinator, who also signed up low income mothers for WIC farmers market checks to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The market has a program to accept EBT cards so anyone, regardless of income level, can find a way to shop the market.

Farmers markets like those in Okanogan, and Bainbridge Island, and Port Townsend, and Ballard, Olympia, Prosser, Carnation, Tenino, Sedro Wooley—they’re all labors of love. They’re all “the heartbeat” of their communities. That’s why we honor them with a whole week. Governor Inslee may have been joking about a number of things in our chat. But not that.

2nd best grilled cheese maker, I’m still not sure.

Find the farmers market nearest you on our website: wafarmersmarkets.org. There’s one open somewhere in Washington every month of the year and every day of the week. Except Mondays. Watch our video interivew with Governor Inslee and Trudi Inslee here: