The Farmers Market is a busy place each Saturday, when Islanders and visitors alike stop by to peruse a rich array of Island-grown or Island-crafted items, from fresh-picked produce to hand-carved wooden bowls.
Sales this year have surpassed previous records, according to market manager Rebecca Wittman, who attributes the success, in part, to the diverse lineup of vendors each week. Several new merchants joined the bustling market this spring, adding to the variety of what is found there, including three businesses offering food good for both body and soul.
Colorfully wrapped chocolate bars with exotic names — Geisha’s Pleasure, Salty Mermaid, Spicey Mayan — line the table in front of Islander Julie Farrell at the Tease Chocolates market booth. Samples are at the ready, and truffles are hidden away, keeping cool under the summer sun.
The bars are Farrell’s version of some popular choices, she said: Bittersweet chocolate, toffee and salt; milk chocolate with toasted almonds and mild pasilla pepper; dark chocolate, matcha green tea and organic puffed brown rice. Other favorites include pistachio butter crunch and what she calls Ginger Lips, dark chocolate over organic crystallized ginger.
“There are only so many ingredients,” she said. “I wanted to come up with my own super delicious versions.”
Farrell, a certified chocolatier, began her professional life in Wisconsin as an MBA working for General Electric, where she expected to be for the rest of her life.
Fortunately for local chocolate lovers, her life took a different turn, fueled in part by the recession, which landed her at a temp agency.
“In 2008, I woke up one day with the thought to do something I love, and that was chocolate,” she said.
With that, she enrolled in a certification program, interned at a variety of chocolate-based businesses, including Theo Chocolates in Fremont, and found her way to Vashon in 2011 with her husband Topher Farrell, who assists with the growing company. They had been living in the former Rainier Brewery in Seattle, which is home to several artists and has its own art walk, for which she made chocolate.
“It was a huge hit,” she said.
That was the beginning of Tease Chocolates — more of a hobby at the time than a full-fledged business. But with the couple’s move to Vashon, she delved more fully into it, and the business is growing. She now makes her chocolates in the kitchen at Vashon Cohousing, using fair trade chocolate and organic ingredients. In addition to the Farmers Market, her chocolates are available online; soon they will be at Minglement and a Whole Foods store near downtown Seattle.
In the coming weeks, she and her husband plan to undertake a bean-to-bar creation, meaning they will make their own chocolate from beans, sugar and cocoa butter, instead of relying on chocolate purchased from other sources. Only 13 chocolatiers in the country do this, Topher said, and the Farrells already have a name picked out for the finished product: The Dark Arts.
“I am not going back to the corporate world,” Farrell said. “I feel like I am realizing my dream.”
Anu Rana’s Healthy Kitchen
Sharing a booth with Tease Chocolates each week is Birbal Rana, who sells healthy baked goods made by his wife, Anu Rana.
The cookies, bars and assorted treats are all made with nutritious ingredients: nuts, dried fruit and natural sugars from honey, maple syrup and dates. They contain no flour, dairy, sugar, eggs, soy or preservatives, and are — according to the company’s Facebook page — “junk free and guilt free.”
Anu cooks all the time at home, she said, drawing from a variety of countries: Japan, the United States and Nepal, where the couple is from. With two children, she routinely experiments to find a healthy way to feed them, and when there is extra, she shares with her neighbors.
“They enjoy my food,” she said.
Indeed, friends suggested she sell her treats at the market, and now she offers 13 types of cookies and an assortment of other goods.
“I am always making new items all the time,” she said.
Sometimes people will stop by the booth, hoping to find a treat they had enjoyed previously, only to find it is not offered in the day’s lineup, and that has frequently turned out well, too, Birbal said.
“They do try the new ones, and they like them,” he said.
The Ranas also offer their goods at Minglement, and the company is growing. “We’re getting nice feedback from people,” Birbal said.
Anu is a familiar face to many because of her job at Thriftway. Birbal is a hydrologist who works from home. The two have lived on Vashon for almost eight years, they said, and moved to the Island because they have friends here.
Looking ahead, they say they will definitely stay at the market through this season and are still working on some aspects of the company, such as packaging their goods.
“People like it a lot,” Anu said. “The main thing is that.”
Midlife Crisis Farms
A few miles away from the market, guests who find their way to the home of Richard and Mary Thomson in the Reddings Beach neighborhood are greeted by an abundance of flowering gardens, but a little exploring takes them directly to pens of pigs, including a multitude of frolicking and nursing piglets.
The Thomsons will sell some and raise others, in a way that they say is humane for the animals and healthier for humans. Animals raised in large production facilities are often confined to crates. At the Thomson farm, which also includes chickens and sheep, the animals are free to move around outside and eat what they would naturally.
“It’s how it is supposed to be,” Richard said.
At the market, the Thomsons sell their meat, all USDA-slaughtered and butchered off-Island, and to broaden their selection, sell other meat, too, much of it raised locally, including beef from near Olympia and bison from Olympia and Wisconsin.
In addition to the animals having a better life when they live outside and graze, the meat is higher quality, they said. Grass-fed beef has less cholesterol than beef from grain-fed cows, Richard noted, and both grass-fed beef and lamb taste much better.
“I won’t sell anything that has not been pasture-raised,” he added.
The two come to the market each week and also sell meat directly from their home.
Initially, Richard and Mary said they raised animals to provide food for friends and their family, which includes three grown children. It became a natural progression to the work they are doing now, Mary said, which also is fulfilling one of Richard’s longtime dreams.
Richard, noting his earlier work included international banking and serving as a general contractor, said, “I’ve always wanted to farm.”