Festival eyed as prelude to Hazel Dell market

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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www.slowfoodswwa.com or call Warren Neth at 360-771-1296

Organizers hope that a recent festival in Hazel Dell marking the arrival of Celtic summer is the spark for another arrival in a year or so: the debut of a community market.

The Hazel Dell Public Market hosted its first event on May 3 with a celebration of Beltane. Traditionally, the observance was held in Scotland and Ireland at the beginning of May to celebrate the start of summer.

The local event was held on grassy acreage just off one of Vancouver’s busiest thoroughfares, near the intersection of Highway 99 and Northeast 99th Street.

In addition to sales of plants and garden art, it featured some of the traditional components of Celtic festivities, such as a maypole dance, Irish fiddle music and Scotch eggs, hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage.

There also were touches the Celtic revelers never envisioned, like free samples of scientifically formulated soil. Those Old World and New Wave elements both represent what the effort is all about, said Warren Neth, one of the Beltane organizers.

While rich in strip malls, the neighborhood lacks a place where people can get together. Whether you refer to that sort of thing as a community courtyard or a public square, Hazel Dell doesn’t have one, Neth said.

The May 3 event drew several families eager to celebrate summer — even though it was still a few weeks away by our calendar.

“It’s the community aspect,” Brittney Koitzsch said after the fiddle-fueled dance around the maypole. “Very heart-warming.”

Tiffanie Willis and her daughters, 6-year-old Addie and 4-year-old Mira, also were among the dancers who circled the maypole.

She looks for opportunities for community involvement for her children, Willis said.

And, “It’s great they’re trying to do something environmentally and socially conscious with this place,” Willis said.

The market project is sponsored by Slow Food Southwest Washington, the local chapter of an international organization that offers alternatives to the industrial food system.

Organizers want to build what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a food hub, Neth said. They will be bringing together businesses and programs that serve small farms while providing new opportunities for local food consumers.

Local growers can use some help selling their produce in Clark County, said Charles Brun, a board member of Slow Food Southwest Washington.

“So much of our produce is shipped 1,500 miles from California,” said Brun, a horticulture adviser with Washington State University Clark County Extension.

Neth also is a board member of Slow Food Southwest Washington, and a member of the Clark County Food System Council. For three years, Neth was director of a local produce-gleaning nonprofit, Urban Abundance.

Market in 2015 is goal

“By 2015, we are hoping to open up a weekly farmers market. We haven’t looked at what day of the week” the market might be held, Neth said.

There are other goals, including a tap room, commissary/kitchen, meat market and cider press on the site. There is no timetable for those features.

“There will be some capital expenses,” Neth said. “We are working with an investor pool. We will see how much we can get done in the first push.”

In the meantime, a local farmer will grow flowers on part of the 3-acre parcel, bringing some color to the neighborhood, Neth said.

There also will be other local festivals on tap, following the format of the inaugural event on May 3. They plan to partner with a Latino association on a Mexican harvest celebration, Neth said — an event that has nothing to do with Cinco de Mayo, by the way.

“We will try to celebrate events that aren’t ‘Hallmark holidays,’ ” he said. “Instead of St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrated Beltane.”

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