By Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan
When Courtney Price drove through Palmer to take her boys to soccer practice on a sunny Friday afternoon, she wondered about the tents set up near the downtown pavilion.
They had a little time to spare, so she, with eight-year-old Gavin, and five-year-old Brayden stopped to investigate. The scents of kettle corn and barbecued pork wafted from food trucks parked on the street. Fresh produce, garden starts, and honey lined farmers’ booths. Local artisans displayed their wares and talked to passersby about their craft. It was a pleasant surprise for the Price’s to discover Friday Fling, a small weekly market that caters to families.
One reason it may be such a friendly venue is that many vendors are family-based businesses.
One booth includes jewelry and art crafted by Sandra Ford and her three daughters, Jessi, Angelina, and Ashlynn.
At the end of the aisle, Roger Raval stood over the sizzling grill at Momma Rav’s Filipino food stand. His wife Roda explained how their business began as a passion for food. She’s been cooking as long as she can remember, starting in her mother’s kitchen. “As a mother, you put soul into everything you do.”
In one booth, Thomas Droz gives away samples of peanut brittle. Thomas and his wife, Monica, were formerly wildlife biologists working in Dutch Harbor. They wanted to start a family, but their jobs demanded extended time away from home. Monica started making peanut brittle, and soon her candy became so popular, it took both of them to run Monica’s Confections.
Hand-hewn wooden toys, custom signs, and carefully crafted birdhouses are just a few of the products that make this market colorful and unique. However, candy, crafts, art, and food were not always part of Friday Fling. The market began in 2002 with a handful of local farmers selling fresh produce out of the small pavilion on the corner of Evergreen and South Valley Way. Today it has expanded to include more than fifty vendors and a wide variety of local artisans and crafters. Hosted by the Greater Palmer Area Chamber of Commerce, these days Friday Fling is also a weekly celebration of local talent. The Chamber was awarded a community development grant from BP, setting the stage for musicians and performers to entertain market goers. Performances are held from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and range from music to folk dancing to juggling acts.
“It’s a family-friendly, multi-generational market that showcases Palmer,” said Kalea Hogate, Friday Fling Marketing Coordinator. The Palmer Pioneer Home is located across the street, and senior residents regularly attend the event. Seniors, couples, teens, and small children are often seen dancing in front of the stage. “It’s truly a community event,” Hogate said.
Farmers are still a mainstay of the market.
Vitali and Monica Seldovitsch have been regulars for years with their chemical-free plants and produce. Bob Shumaker and his wife, Yasinta, are proprietors of Black Bear Farms and Edward Zegzdryn runs Midnight Sun Farm and Apiary. Bushes Bunches also has a booth selling plants for the garden and produce for the table. This partial listing highlights the importance of farmers to the market and agriculture to the Palmer area.
In 1935 during the Great Depression, Palmer’s townsite was designed as a resettlement community as part of FDR’s New Deal. Midwestern farmers were relocated to the Matanuska Valley to form a colony that would establish an agricultural base to grow food for the territory. The midwestern-style water tower, in view of Friday Fling, is a reminder of the colonists and agriculture’s significant history in the area. Agriculture continues to remain important to the local economy. Along with markets like Friday Fling, Matanuska Valley farmers source fresh vegetables and produce to area-wide restaurants and grocery stores.
“Our hope is to keep the market open longer into September this year to take advantage of fresh produce harvested later in the summer,” Hogate said.
A breeze picked up as the sunny afternoon drew to a close. When the Price boys, Gavin and Brayden, were asked about the favorite part of their surprise visit to Friday Fling, they agreed that Icies were a highlight. An open bag of kettle corn also appeared much appreciated.
“The shark teeth were the best,” said Gavin, referring to the fossils at the Designer Jewelry for Less booth. For Courtney, whose family has lived in the area for four years, the festival was another discovery of what a small town and the community of Palmer has to offer.
Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a former resident of Eagle River and now lives near Palmer on a small farm with her husband, two dogs, and five horses. www.kaylene.us