Farmer’s market manager moves on and leaves us nourished

The Golightly Gourmet

By Dana Zia

Laura Swanson doesn’t remember when she fell in love with food, it’s just always been that way.

Laura Swanson and daughter Kalli celebrate their last market on Sept. 19th.
Laura Swanson and daughter Kalli celebrate their last market on Sept. 19th.

“I grew up here in Tillamook County and graduated from Neah-Kah-Nie high school. My father was a hunter and clamdigger/harvester, so we always had delicious local foods to eat.” Laura shared with me over a congenial piece of carrot cake. “So I guess you could say I have always been local and into local foods.”

This all made sense to me as Laura just “retired” as Manzanita’s Farmers Market manager after eight years of faithful and fruitful service. It was obvious to me that someone with a great love of local foods has been cultivating our market and Laura positively bubbles with it. She was hired as the Market Manager in 2008 after a group of citizens realized that the market they had started out grew their volunteer efforts.

“In 2006, the market was started by a group of citizens that really wanted a farmers market in our area. Ginger Edwards (formerly Salkowski), Julianne Johnson, Rich Kennedy, Craig Mackie, Fawn Russo, Bunny Frost, Beth Basile, and Sherri Raschio, were the founders and first volunteer board of the market.” Laura filled me in, “Walt and Kay Covert are also considered founding members as well because they were so accommodating and supportive to having the market in their parking lot of Windermere Manzanita (now Kamali Sotheby).”

“From the very beginning, the market board has been a great support team to work with that are integral and key to this market happening. “ Laura shared, “In fact, I couldn’t have done it without them or my daughter Kalli. When I was hired, there was a joke that the market got a “two-fer” because my daughter Kalli was always by my side helping with everything. She started the face painting and children’s booth as well,” Laura beamed.

One of the carrots that sprang up from Laura’s time at the market was turning the market into a zero waste market. “We started the zero waste program at the market the third year I was there. Ginger (Edwards) and I sorta tip toed into it. It was her idea that she brought from the Oregon Country Fair, where they have been doing it for a long time.” Laura continued, “The first thing we did was provide real forks for the market as one of the things we identified as being a real problem was all the plastic silverware that isn’t recyclable and isn’t that great to eat with.”

So through Cartm Recycling and other sources they acquired lots of real metal flatware and distributed that to all the ready to eat food vendors, and then would collect them at the zero waste station at the entrance to the market.  “On top of doing that we would recycle everything we possibly could and we mandated that all of our vendors use recyclable materials.” Laura told me, “The next issue was the problem with paper plates and that is when we moved into providing plates and bowls that are reusable and also collected at the zero waste station at the market.”

With this program in place, this year the market only produced a small trash can of garbage at the end of every market, opposed to large amounts that they used to have. “We went from spending hundreds of dollars on trash a month to twenty bucks.” Laura accounted, “It has been amazing.” She was recently at a farmer’s markets conference where she was going to speak on promotional techniques but everyone was more interested in the zero waste program that she implemented. “I ended up speaking mostly about the program so the promoter of the conference said we should probably have me come back to do a workshop on it.” Laura said.

Yes, Laura’s enthusiasm for everything she does has certainly been reflected in our incredible farmers market. But, her zeal for life has taken her to other pastures as she is now the editor of the North Coast Citizen where she is equally qualified being in the industry for 25 years. “I have loved managing the farmers market all these years and I am really looking forward to getting my summers back.” She said almost wistfully. “I’m looking forward to spending more time in our garden next year.”

Laura and her husband Rich, who are combined certified master gardener and landscaper love to create beautiful food together. Not only do they cook a lot but they employ intensive gardening (which is growing stuff really close together to keep out the weeds) that uses a lot of perennials for low maintenance. Their latest endeavor has been to grow hops and make their own beer out of it. “We made a raspberry beer recently from our huge crop of raspberries and hops we got this year, and it was AMAZING!” Laura said rolling her eyes and practically drooling.

The next locavore to take the carrot stick of running the market is the native Oregonian Emily Vollmer, who is more than qualified to take over with not only a great love of local food, gardening, farmers markets, flower arranging, and sustainability but comes with quite the pedigree of degrees to back her up. Laura said, “She is the perfect fit for the market and our community in general. We are very lucky to have her.”

I asked Laura to share one of her favorite recipes with us to celebrate her matriculation. Being an avid cook, it was difficult to narrow down her recipes but we settled on her roasted red pepper soup. “It is really easy to take a few simple ingredients and make your own soups that are healthy for you and are so much better than anything out of a can.” Laura expressed. “This soup calls for a half a cup of cream or half and half but I never add it. The soup turns out so thick with the roasted red peppers that it really doesn’t need it.”

She likes to roast her own red peppers that they grow in their green house and freeze them in one cup portions in the freezer. “It really isn’t that hard to roast your own but if you want, you can use bottled roasted red peppers for this soup. I can make this soup in less than 30 minutes, it is quick and tasty.” Thank you Laura for your years of nourishing our market and for this delicious soup to keep us nourished.

Laura’s Roasted Red Pepper Soup

DanaZiaRRpeppersoupServes 4-6. The original recipe came from a friend of Laura’s and food genius Darlene Jones.

2 cups of roasted red peppers (about 4 big peppers)

2 TBLS of butter

2 fat onions, sliced

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp of salt or to taste

4 cups of chicken broth

1/2 cup of Half and half (optional)

Few cranks of black pepper

1/4 tsp of Cayenne Pepper (Or to taste)

Laura’s easy instruction to Roast Peppers – Clean, remove seeds and ribbing; flatten on lightly sprayed cookie sheet.  Roast under broiler, middle shelf for 10-15 minutes until skin is blackened.  Carefully remove and place in heavy duty freezer bag or brown paper bag to steam until cool.  Peel skin under cool water. Ta daa! Roasted your own peppers.

Now onto the soup; Take out a large heavy saucepan and over medium heat, melt the butter. Toss in the onions and garlic and sauté until tender and fragrant. Add the roasted peppers and broth and simmer about 15 mins or so till everything is mingling well. Mechanically puree your concoction somehow, either in a blender, food processor or immersion blender. Pour it back in your saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Stir in the half and half if desired and add the pepper and the cayenne. Taste and add more seasoning if you fancy it. Enjoy this beautiful red fall-ish soup!