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Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Green Grocer Comes to the Valley…

Valley Farm StandMike, aka Kevin, aka Trevor, aka The Ukester at Island Blends Espresso has a new neighbor. Perhaps you’ve noticed the colorful signage that has sprouted here and there in front of the farm stand (the former Mott’s Produce). I stopped by the other morning after Gladys subjected me to a particularly rigorous pre-breakfast workout. A sign advertising “Fresh Peaches” whetted my appetite. A freshly sliced peach topping my morning’s bran flakes would make a fine launch, I thought, into my daily routine.

We rolled to a stop in front of a doorway where I perched the morning’s instrument of torture on her kickstand and went peach hunting. “I’m here for your peaches,” I say to a gentleman standing next to a produce table. “I’m afraid you’re a bit too early,” he smiles apologetically. Sure, I knew this… peaches in late May? “But your sign…?” Then I laugh and tell the fellow I was just joking around, knew peaches wouldn’t be ready until July at least. “False advertising….” The teasing continues. “But we should have peaches in a week or so,” he offers.

A peach inquiry? Nothing more than a dodge, of course, for The Ripple to ferret out the latest news. I introduce myself, reveal my affiliation with The Ripple and share its mission of reporting the latest Valley happenings. As always, the Press impresses and The Ripple is pleased to post the following:

Mike Bennett is the Valley’s new green grocer. I talked to Mike among tables piled with a variety of produce. Bennett has a “the customer not only is always right, he’s always more than welcome” manner about him.Mike Bennett Unlike Mott, Mike’s predecessor whose produce leaned heavily to fresh fruit and berries, Bennett’s tables brim with just about every kind of green produce you’d find at Freddies and some I’m sure Freddy never heard of—at least I hadn’t. Mike operates one other stand and also supplies several local restaurants and groceries with produce. Though he’s a busy man, Bennett agreed to a brief interview with The Ripple. My first question: “Does your establishment have a name or are you just going to go with the generic ‘Farm Stand’ as your signs read?” “We’re having a banner sign made with ‘Sweet Deals Produce’ printed,” Mike tells me. That ups the creativity quotient a notch or two, I tell him. He laughs and says he’d considered going with something a bit more rural like “Rusty Tractor Produce.” “Not the best marketing idea to mix rust with food,” I say, nodding toward the folksy old manure spreader complimenting the stand’s new signage.Not a tractor (That old derelict reminded me of a Garrison Keillor story where just such an implement was used to ornament a vegetable stand: “I don’t care how much varnish you slap on a thing like that,” said Keillor. “On a hot day everybody knows it’s not a tractor.”)

My interview continues: “What do you want your customers to know about Sweet Deals Produce?” I point to a sign that promises to “Support Local Business.” Mike nods and tells me by “local” he means Valley “local” first and cites Willie Green’s Organic Farms and the produce from Paul Bischoff’s vegetable patch west of Kelly Bolles’ place as local suppliers. County produce next and then eastern state soft fruit and vegetables.

Mike lives in Snohomish and as I said, he’s a busy man. I thank him for his time and off he goes to see to his other businesses. Mike’s son Zach tends the Tualco stand while his dad is elsewhere. When I ask Zach if he lives locally, too, he smiles a shy smile, points and says, “Yeah, in the trailer outside.” Can’t get much more local than that, can you?

Sweet Deals has an eclectic display of farm produce. There’s the usual fare: a variety of soft fruits (as yet no berries), potatoes, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes--but I couldn’t help notice a considerable amount of the stand’s inventory caters to Hispanics customers: peppers of all varieties and “heats,” salsa tomatoes, a bin of tomatillos, plantains, a table layered with bags of fresh tortillas, and some other unfamiliar produce like the stickery pear-shaped item Zach holds. A cross between an avocado and a cactus?  “What’s this?” I ask. “It looks like it might come crawling out of there at any minute.” Zach’s holding a spiney chayote, he tells me and believes it’s used in Mexican cuisine of some sort.  More strange stuff…Exotic produce. Ahhh, “prickly cactus pears.” It’s my guess that now the inventory has just left the jurisdiction of local produce. “And this?” I hold up a bundle of pods that looks like another hybrid, this time a cross between a catalpa and a locust trees’ seed pods.Guajes “Used in salsa, I guess,” Zach says. This is some interesting looking produce, I think, as I examine a bin of what looks like scabby fingerling potatoes ( but with the fingers of a giant). Zach’s not too sure about this one, but for those who know its use, they’ll pay $1.49 a pound, crusty scabs included. Strange roots

Zach’s hand-held device demands attention and as he tends to whatever business from whoever, wherever, I wander up and down the aisles. Sweet Deals has a bushel or two of variety up on the Mott’s of yesteryear. And milk, too, at $2.29 a gallon! Among the abundance of hand printed signage I note a few spelling infelicities (the English teacher may retire, but spelling errors sprout eternal): “asparugus” (the “uhhh” schwa sound continues to confound), “rubarb” (gimme an “h”), “apricotes” (a spring fashion, perhaps?), and “quarter” without the first “r” (always profread your work). I peer out the front door where two fruit bins brimming with watermelons (no superfluous “L”: good) guard the entrance. Are these local?

I ask Mike how business has been like so far. “Weekends have been ok,” he says, “but it’s pretty slow during the week.” (I notice Zach discarding some limp asparagus that didn’t sell.) Before Bennett decided to choose this corner, he took note of the traffic on 203 and thought it busy enough to support business here. I tell Mike business should perk up when the berry season starts; each season fresh, local berries bring a host of people to the Valley. “I hope you’re right,” he replies.

So if it’s local honey you want (Bob Hoffman’s: a Snohomish County beekeeper for years), fresh tortillas, sea salt in a variety of flavors (smoked sea salt, for one), fresh bread, milk at $2.29 a gallon, some seed pods, exotic roots, or one of those prickly, bristly things, come browse Sweet Deals Produce. On a hot day, however, you just might want to stay upwind of that rusty old piece of farm machinery out front. 

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  1. Asparagus for $1.69? I'm headed over now...

  2. Ms. Bridget...still think you should grow your own. We're still picking an occasional meal from our little patch. TMJ

  3. Island Blends Espresso???? Where is that???? It's Island Blend Coffee if I'm not mistaken. The produce stand is such an added bonus for the community. Please support them.


  4. Dear Anonymous, Tropical Blends, Island Blends, Tropical Island Blends Coffee--it's the latte stand on the corner of Tualco and 203, the only one in the Valley where the proprietor purports to play the ukelele and sing like Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. And yes, please do support local Valley businesses, but don't forget Kurt's Vegetable Stand and Rosarios's Floral, both Valley locals, too: fresh berries, vegetables (Valley grown), corn and gorgeous hanging baskets. (DLR--Roller, is that you?) TMJ

  5. Hey, Mr. Englishteacher, you forgot the "you" in the fifth paragraph. Although "spelling errors sprout eternal", even English teachers are susceptible to human error every once in a while. I recall the great words of a Blogger, "always proofread your work". ;) The farm stand is great, by the way. I checked it out.

  6. Duly noted and thanks for the heads up, Anonymous. Perhaps The Ripple should hire an editor? Interested? TMJ