WALLA WALLA -- Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop. Amid the murmurs of voices from the crowds of people meandering through the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market on Saturday, the sound of fresh kettle corn cooking -- and, perhaps more importantly, the scent -- permeated the air from just under the canopy at Crawford Park.
"It advertises itself," Serge Larondelle quipped as he served up a sample of his $4-per-bag confection Saturday morning.
One of an estimated 60 vendors for the market's first full weekend, Larondelle is using his opportunity at Fourth Avenue and Main Street to test the market and gauge demand for the sweetened treat. He envisions a bricks-and-mortar future for the operation that's so new it doesn't yet have a name.
Four canopies over, Kennewick resident Linda Fowlkes was also introducing a product to the local market. Her Antler Dog Chews business offers sawed and slightly sanded antler pieces of various sizes for dogs. The pieces come from naturally shed elk antlers that she buys from distributors with the rosettes still attached.
Fowlkes said she's had an online presence for three years and sells her product to pet stores, but working through farmers markets helps augment the business and gives her another focus through the warm season.
Those selling their wares this weekend had a huge crowd from which to draw. With Mother's Day and Spring Release wrapped into one weekend, the market was alive with activity. Down the center of the canopy, growers offered fresh asparagus, leeks, tomato plants and greens.
Serenaded by Blue Mountain Spanish Sound in the 9 a.m. hour, guests wandering through the packed parking lot behind City Hall could find fresh cheese from Dayton, Walla Walla-made granola, handmade soaps, purses made from zippers, furniture made from wine barrels, hooded towels, paintings on canvas, jewelry, scented oils, flower baskets, fresh-squeezed lemonade, baked goods and coasters made with images of the Walla Walla Valley.
"It's a great kickoff," said Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market board member Skip Cundiff who stood nearby as this year's market poster design winner, Christina Kennell, signed posters.
"It's a great meeting place for people to come."
With moments of sunshine throughout the morning, Mother Nature provided ample conditions for operations. Consumers on foot entered the market from every direction for a glimpse at the goods.
Typically operating on the weekends May through October, this year's market started a little unusually. With the turn of the month taking place last Sunday, vendors didn't miss the opportunity to set up their canopies -- even just for one day last weekend.
The effort was worth it, said Director Beth-Aimee McGuire. She said the market received almost $50 in WIC and food stamp vouchers for that one opening stretch, a sign that particular program continues to resonate with the public.
For some of the newest vendors, it was also a chance to get their feet wet with the operation.
Larondelle said he didn't move as much popcorn as he had hoped, but had plans this weekend to see if some consumers might be interested in a s'mores version of his kettle corn.
"I brought marshmallow and chocolate chips with me today," he said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.
- May 1-Oct. 30
- Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Fourth Avenue and Main Street, directly behind City Hall