Meet the producer

Daystalls, the heart and soul of Pike Place Market, host 108 farmers and 203 craftspeople who offer their freshest and best to customers: organic produce, vibrant fresh and dried flowers and quality arts and crafts.

The Hilario Alvarez family and its Alvarez Farm continue a 97-year-old Market tradition selling directly to customers. Weekly, they sell 2,000 pounds - a full ton - of certified organic produce through the Market Basket Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. That is in addition to their sales at the Market.

CSA provides prepaid customers 20 weeks of harvest - and supplies farmers springtime working capital when most needed.

"We make two deliveries a week, sometimes three, just for the Market Basket program," said 24-year-old Eduardo Alvarez, second eldest son. "This really helps us by providing a guaranteed market for our product and money in spring, when we literally have nothing to sell but must pay for seed, water and other costs."

Direct from the farm

For 10 years, from May to mid-November, the Alvarez family has sold directly to Market customers.

"We used to sell through middle men, which reduced the price we received for all our product," he said. "This ensures us a higher price and customers the freshest produce at low cost."

Farming on the Alvarez Farm's 65 acres starts in early February.

"To get a jump on the season, we begin in the greenhouse, where seed for peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and watermelons are placed in potting soil, "he said. "This earlier germination allows us to plant outdoors earlier, which is better with the Yakima Valley climate and helps get us to market sooner.

"Our first crops at the Market are green onions, three varieties of peas, beets and fresh garlic," Alvarez said. "After the early crops, we sell corn, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, melons, okra, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, peanuts and zucchini. Last in the season are eggplant, peppers and 15 heirloom varieties of tomatoes."

Although proud of all their products, perhaps peppers are the star of the Alvarez Farm.

"We have 15 acres with 75 varieties of peppers under cultivation, including one acre of the HabaƱero."

Many of the 75 pepper varieties are Alvarez Farm exclusives. "My father hybridizes peppers," he said. "Beginning in October, he walks the fields to hand-harvest seed he places into individual bags, hand labels, then air dries to protect the seed, which is destroyed by heat dehydration."

When 18 years old, Hilario Alvarez moved to the Yakima Valley from Mexico, initially working for Filipino farmers. In 2005, he plans to purchase 25 more acres to farm.

"I am so proud of my father," said Alvarez, one of nine children.

"You can easily find us by looking for our display of 5-pound, $20 chili strings and $25 chili wreathes hanging on Pike Place," he said. "We're here every day, May to mid-November."

A back-to-school stop

Rare among the 203 Market crafters, "grandfathered" David Schaible, of El Gringo Imports, offers high-quality, affordable handcrafted garments made by others.

"Today, a family bought handmade wool and alpaca sweaters from Ecuador and Peru for their three children as part of their back-to-school shopping," Schaible said. "This is not uncommon because my prices are affordable."

"Grandfathered" vendors sell goods they do not create themselves. At one time during the late 1960s, only 40 farmers sold produce at daystalls, so beginning as a day-by-day option, empty farmer daystalls were rented to craftspeople.

"Victor Steinbrueck supported vendors like me because we offered affordable goods for lower-income people," Schaible said. "He thought we were a way to help keep a healthy socio-economic diversity at the Market."

His adventure began, "after a trip to Mexico, when I brought back a truck full of goods to sell," he said. "I initially sold at Pier 70 in the empty loft of a friend, but had little success."

Someone suggested Schaible try Market daystalls.

"I didn't want to set up and break down my display every day, but I gave it a try and have been here ever since," he said. Now, always located at the 'dogleg,' the far north end of the North Arcade, "We sell year 'round."

A Market activist during the 1980s and early 1990s, he served three terms on the Preservation and Development Authority (PDA) Council.

"The 1983 Hilt Amendment (city ordinance) greatly helped clarify the PDA's role and, among other things, established guidelines for farmer and craftsperson daystalls."

Schaible established relationships with families in Otavalo, Ecuador and Juliaca, Peru, who "determine the type and amount of product they produce and set the price for their products, which is what I pay," he said. "Some criticize, but I have seen communities with crafts are better off than the subsistence agriculture-only towns that still do not have indoor plumbing.

"The highest indigenous populations in South America are in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, populations who experience the highest unemployment," he said.

His price points for hand knit products include: $10 hats; $7 to $10 gloves; $10 to $20 scarves; $49 wool sweaters, and $65 to $130 alpaca sweaters and alpaca/wool ponchos. "The rich colors of alpaca products are natural, undyed, because alpacas grow black, brown, gray, tan and white fiber," Schaible said.

"I'm proud that by working at the Market I was able to raise my four sons, three who still work here: Jody, Peter and Mike."

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