A year later, the Nikiski market offers a community center for farmers and creators
On the second day of the second season of Monday Farmers Markets in Nikiski, farmers, designers and shoppers turned to local produce. After years of finding their nearest local markets in Kenai or Soldotna, longtime residents of Nikiski said they were happy to sell their wares in their own community.
“I thought about doing the bigger markets, but this is my home, you know, and everyone I meet is like my friends and neighbors,” said Geri Litzen, the artist behind the To the Moon and Back.
Litzen lived in Nikiski, as she puts it, “forever.” She is among the vendors who go to the Nikiski Hardware & Supply parking lot each week for the market, which was founded in 2021 by hardware store owner Stacy Oliva.
Last year Oliva says KDLL she wanted to create a hub for the community of Nikiski, which is scattered and currently has few places to gather.
Heidi Covey was also involved in starting the market. She said the market was also driven by pandemic-related supply chain fears and a desire to create a sustainable food community.
“It was kind of scary for this to hit our country. We’re at the end of the food chain here,” Covey said. “So once the shelves are empty in Seattle, we won’t have anything here. So , having this skill set – or being able to share this skill set with others and teach it – will keep food in your panties when crazy things like this happen.
Covey’s stand is called Veggies and Stuff and is at the market every week. She has been in Nikiski for almost 40 years and said she hopes to see family businesses return to the area, instead of more chain stores.
The market has only a few vendors – there were five on Monday, including an egg vendor who sold out in the morning. In the market’s first year, Covey spent many Mondays as the only seller. And she said she often worries about whether the market will take off, but she is encouraged by new stalls this summer.
Today, Litzen’s booth is filled with stickers, socks, onesies, shirts, pins and other items adorned with his signature watercolor paintings of animals and flowers.
Destiny Jackson is set up in another corner of the parking lot.
“I run Radiant Wear, which started out as headbands for women,” Jackson said. “And I had a baby and I decided to do everything under the sun. So now I make bows, children’s clothes, dresses and sweatshirts. It’s just a hobby in outside the maternity ward.
Many vendors have one major thing in common with the marketplace that hosts them: they started their business because of new free time, creative inspiration, and the general disruptive atmosphere of COVID-19.
Jackson has spent the pandemic learning to sew. Litzen started painting because of a game she played with her daughter in 2020. The two were filling a jar with themed ideas and pulling one out to do an activity for the evening; one night was painting, something Litzen had never really tried before.
“I just had time, as I say, to make as many mistakes as I needed to get something I loved. I painted this little bear, and my friends wanted some, and I thought “I’ll make a little sticker out of it”. And that’s how it started,” she said. Litzen said it had been a godsend during the difficult pandemic years.
“I didn’t realize I needed this creative expression in my life, but it’s been great. I love it,” she said.
Litzen said his biggest weakness is giving away free stickers to all the kids who ask in the market. She also designed a rooster logo that egg vendors printed on t-shirts to wear at their booth.
Market kids also gravitate towards Covey’s stand. On Monday, a group of three stumbled upon their famous local marshmallows, which come in fruit flavors and “grown-up” flavors, like Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. She usually brings a jar of individual marshmallows which she sells to children for 50 cents each.
One thing that was evident on Monday was the care and sense of community among vendors.
Covey said it was part of the philosophy of the market – if we don’t take care of our neighbours, she said, then what do we do?
You can visit the Nikiski Monday Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every week until August 29.