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The Simple Gifts of Saturday Market

Hood River weekly event 'kind of like family'

The wind bore the scent of basil and everyone within five yards of the pungent herb stopped and took a deep breath.

It was just one of a thousand moments at Hood River Saturday Market, where the scents, tastes and textures of gardens, workshops and kitchens bring hundreds of visitors together each week.

The pleasures bridge the generations.

"You get so it's kind of like family," said Jessie Jeppesen of Mt. Hood, who has sold her jams and hand-sewn items at the market for nine seasons. She admits to having slowed down a bit in recent years, and no longer vends every week.

"It's been a fun thing over the years," said Jeppesen, racking some of her newest creation, fleece robes.

Next to her in the Rasmussen Farms booth, Johnny Logan did brisk business selling fruits and vegetables. It's been his summer job for five years.

"It's the people, man," Logan said. "The people are so cool here. I like to keep things local, that's what it's all about. There's a good atmosphere here. Everybody's mellow."

Mellow only to a degree was the busy booth where Loreley Clark made and sold Kettle Korn, a farmer's market staple.

"I love this place. It's better than the supermarket," Clark said. "You can get everything you need here. Everything is made this morning or last night."

A neighboring vendor came over with a container of lip balm in exchange for a large bag of the salt-and-sugar Kettle Korn.

"Barter!" Clark exclaims. "We've traded for melons, corn, salsa, shaved ice, bread, you name it! That's the great part of this place."

The Hood River Farmer's Market celebrated its 10th year in July. Throughout the summer, shoppers can choose from goods made or grown by more than 100 vendors from around the Mid-Columbia, which is also the region where most visitors live.

"We've got a solid 10 or so produce vendors each week, and people seem happy with that mixture of agriculture and crafts," said first-year manager Lisa Conway. "The customers and the vendors are happy with what we have. Things have been going really well this summer, with great attendance and great weather."

The market board of directors, who are volunteers, met Friday and asked themselves the question "where do we want to be in five years?" Conway reported. Not much bigger, they found.

"The answer was that where we are right now is about where we want it to be," Conway said.

The market features vegetables, produce, and hand-made food items including jams and jellies, baked goods, along with paintings, pottery, furniture, clothing and numerous types of jewelry.

Musicians play each week, and special events are a weekly market feature; Sugar Daddies performed swing jazz and folk tunes and a watermelon seed spitting contest was held Saturday.

This week, Skyewalk will perform Celtic music, and an apple-bobbing contest is planned for children. There is plenty of room in front of the music tent for those inclined to dance.

From Kettle Korn and roasted peppers to Chilean empanadas and organic pears and other produce, certain bounty are standard fare at the market.

Other weeks there are surprises in store, be they dense pints of blackberries or unusual melons from Hermiston.

The pace is lively, yet laid-back, as visitors stroll from booth to booth, admiring ripe peaches or graceful willow furniture. Local residents happen into each other, or learn about a new craft or the latest garden offering out of Hood River Valley. OSU Master Gardeners are ready each week to provide horticulture information.

Each week this year, pleasant weather has smiled on the market. When temperatures grew hottest two weeks ago, vendors shared the draft of a large fan, Clark reported.

The market's setting is spacious but tucked-away, in the public parking lot (plenty of parking adjacent) at Sixth and Cascade streets. It's at the edge of downtown, close enough to easily walk from the Oak Street boulevard but set apart enough to resemble a Shangri-la of simple gifts.

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