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May 2, 2014 at 6:15 AM

As the 2014 season begins, farmers markets are booming

Xe Chang, from Mee Gardens organizes his flowers before the opening of the Ballard Farmers Market. File photo by Marcus Yam/The Seattle Times

Xe Chang, from Mee Gardens organizes his flowers before the opening of the Ballard Farmers Market. (Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

Rhubarb? Check. Asparagus? Yes! No question that farmers-market season is about to begin. The popular Columbia City Farmers Market will unofficially kick it off, with opening day Wednesday, May 7.

The number of markets in the state has more than doubled in the past decade, according to a recent Washington State University study, currently standing at more than 160.

The newest market opening this year from a Seattle operator, though, isn’t in Seattle: It’s the Microsoft Commons branch of Pike Place Market Express, which will operate on the Redmond campus on Tuesdays starting June 17.

In Seattle proper, which now boasts four year-round farmers markets (plus Pike Place Market), the change isn’t the number of markets opening but the way the tables are filling with fresh produce and the markets are expanding to greet the season.The granddaddy University District Farmers Market, for instance, which saw a 15 percent bump in shoppers after moving to its new in-the-street location last year, is expanding another 120 feet north on May 3 to allow more farmers and space for special events such as cooking demonstrations.

With recent changes to laws governing wine tastings, the Queen Anne Farmers Market will have three wineries rotating through its Thursday market. Capitol Hill’s Broadway market is expected to jump from 40 to 55 vendors for the summer, with newcomers including Honeymoon Mead, selling hard ciders and meads made from Skagit Valley honey.Other new vendors range from pasture-raised bison meat from Footprint Farms at the Columbia City market to a pepper farmer from Yakima Valley and local fish and chips from the Fish Basket Northwest food truck at the Lake City market.

If you can’t wait for your favorite Seattle neighborhood market to reopen, look outside the city limits for other well-stocked favorites: The popular Saturday market in Redmond opens May 3, the Saturday market in downtown Edmonds starts up May 10, the Lake Forest Park market opens May 11, and the Thursday market at Bellevue’s Presbyterian Church opens May 15. The season is already under way at Issaquah’s busy Saturday market and Vashon Island’s smaller Saturday market.

While convenience is a big plus, checking out a different neighborhood’s market qualifies as a perfect evening out in my book. Last summer I was wowed by a stop at the Wallingford market. I hadn’t been since its early parking lot days, and was impressed by its increased size, diverse vendors, chef demos, and attractive setup in Meridian Park, which practically begged for a post-shopping picnic. (It was named the 2012 Farmers Market of the Year by the state Farmers Market Association.) Lake City hasn’t seen the same bump in sales as other markets, administrators said, which seemed strange to me –it has 30+ vendors, underground free parking, and is in another golden location, with a pleasant park and a library branch on-site. Columbia City is already a beloved neighborhood draw, but I suspect it will become even more so once the PCC Natural Markets branch under development opens next door in 2015.

Got a favorite market to recommend? Add it in the comments below.

Here are details for several markets in the Seattle city limits:

Ballard
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays year-round on historic Ballard Avenue.

Capitol Hill
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays year-round at Seattle Central College at Broadway Avenue East and East Pine Street.

City Hall (Pike Place Market Express)
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, starting June 17 in the plaza at 600 Fourth Ave.

Columbia City
3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, starting May 7 on a closed portion of South Edmunds Street, in Columbia Park, and in the Columbia School Playground.

First Hill (Pike Place Market Express)
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, starting June 16 at Virginia Mason Medical Center’s Lindeman Pavilion, 1201 Terry Ave.

Lake City
3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, starting June 12 at Northeast 125th and 28th Avenue Northeast.

Madrona
3 to 7 p.m. Fridays, starting May 16, in the parking lot of the Madrona Grocery Outlet, 1126 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Magnolia
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, starting June 7 on McGraw Street at 33rd Avenue West.

Phinney
3 to 7 p.m. Fridays, starting June 6 at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6532 Phinney Ave. N.

Pioneer Square (Pike Place Market Express)
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 18 at Occidental Park at South Main Street and Occidental Avenue South.

Queen Anne
3 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, starting June 5 on West Crockett Street at Queen Anne Avenue.

South Lake Union (Pike Place Market Express)
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays, starting June 19 at 410 Terry Ave. N.

University District
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays year-round on University Way Northeast at Northeast 50th Street.

Wallingford
3:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 28 at Meridian Park, at the corner of Meridian Avenue North and North 50th Street.

West Seattle
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, year-round at 44th Ave Southwest & Southwest Alaska Street.

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