This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Despite the unexpected sunny August weather, summer is wrapping up, which means only a few more opportunities to shop local at farmers markets.
Dan Bilyeu of Northern Lights Mushrooms sells his produce at the Farmers Fresh Market on Tuesdays and at the Soldotna Saturday Market. His stand is stacked with crates filled with zucchinis, oyster mushrooms and colorful peppers, like scotch bonnets, jalapenos, poblanos and more.
“My peppers have been phenomenal,” Bilyeu said. “I’ve got peppers everywhere. Nothing we raise here has the heat the southern peppers do, but they still give pretty good heat. I really like the flavor they have to them though. I’m not really into the burn-your-tongue-off kind of heat anyway.”
After farmers markets end, Bilyeu takes advantage of the Alaska Food Hub, a virtual farmers market where people can order products online. When the Alaska Food Hub season ends at the end of October and Bilyeu still has a surplus of produce, he turns to Anchorage, which hosts a year-round farmers market inside the Midtown Mall.
“I take everything to Anchorage because I just don’t have any place to move it down here then,” Bilyeu said. “As long as I produce anything I can sell it.”
Bilyeu is actually able to produce quite a bit after the market season ends. His seven pot chili peppers haven’t even come up yet and his ghost peppers won’t be ready until October. His oyster mushrooms can also be grown year-round.
“There are several things that won’t even make it to the market,” Bilyeu said.
He’s been growing and selling his produce for more than 20 years in Alaska. He said he’s seen a real boom in the market scene in the last decade or so.
“There was a so-so thing on the peninsula then, and Anchorage was really building their markets,” Bilyeu said. “Finally, everybody got tired of having to go to Anchorage. The growers got larger and were able to produce more produce and that’s really helped. There’s a lot of new vendors and a lot of new growers and that’s a really nice thing to see.”
New to the market scene is Debora Sperry. Tuesday’s Farmers Fresh Market was her first time behind the counter of a market stand, where she’s selling small, potted avocado trees. She sells each tree for $5 and donates all of her proceeds to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
“I love gardening and I’ve spent a few years growing avocado trees for fun,” Sperry said. “It takes a long time to grow them this high. I figured if anyone wanted one and wanted to make a donation to the food bank diner then they could make a donation, get a treat and have fun with it.”
Sperry will be at the next two Farmers Fresh Markets, which are 3–6 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. The Farmers Fresh Market ends on Sept. 11. The Soldotna Saturday Market, which is 10 a.m.–2 p.m. on Saturdays off of E. Corral Avenue in Soldotna, ends Sept. 8. The Alaska Food Hub will continue to deliver at their pick up locations in Ninilchik and Soldotna until Wednesday, Oct. 24.
As one last hurrah to the market season, the Harvest Moon Local Food Festival will be one of the largest food vendor events of the year. There will be live music, food demonstrations, vendors, speakers and food trucks featuring local ingredients. The event is 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15 in Soldotna Creek Park.