Olympia Farmers Market officially kicks off 40th year with food, folks and fun

Carolyn Erickson, who runs a face-painting station for children at the Olympia Farmers Market, said one of her craziest requests came from a bald man who had asked her to paint his entire head a bold shade of orange.

“He kind of looked like a pumpkin,” she said, laughing at the memory. “He was 40-ish, but he was young at heart.”

Erickson is among nearly 100 vendors who will participate in this year’s market, which launched its 40th season Thursday with something for all ages.

Although strawberry harvest is still a few weeks away, people can find plenty of flowers and garden goodies at the market — everything from apples and pears to starter plants for kale, peas, lavender, mint and rosemary.

Market mainstay Stewart’s Meats showed off an array of steaks and sausages, while Sea Blossoms Seafoods and Shelton’s Sound Fresh Clams and Oysters arranged their fresh catches over ice.

Other vendors peddled candy, crafts, sauerkraut, soaps, wood carvings, jewelry and balloon animals. Several food trailers served ethnic eats to the backdrop of live music by the Pine Hearts.

Open year-round, the market will run 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until the end of October before scaling back to weekends.

On a nice summer day, the market can attract 2,000 people or more, and nearly 250,000 visitors are expected this year.

“The farmers market continues to be an iconic institution for both the city and region,” said Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, who helped launch the spring season Thursday with a traditional bell-ringing.

On opening day, Honey Bear Farm was buzzing with its jars of honey and bee-inspired candles. Ivan and Karen Rogers have raised honeybees on their Olympia farm for nearly a decade and came to the market about five years ago.

That was around the time Karen Rogers finally shook her extreme fear of bees — by standing in the middle of a giant swarm.

Swarming occurs when a honeybee colony splits and thousands of worker bees follow the queen to form a new hive. Rogers stood as still as a statue while the bees did what they had to do. It was a frightening but exhilarating experience that made her realize bees were much less dangerous than she had feared.

Rogers has since developed a deeper understanding and connection with the insects. Today, she and her husband tend nearly 300 colonies housed in dresser-drawer hives on their farm.

“They’re amazing creatures,” she said. “They have a language, they have a dance.”