On May 29, 1993, a farmers market opens in Seattle's University District neighborhood at the University Heights Community Center at the corner of NE 50th and University Way NE. The University District Farmers Market springs to life every Saturday, with more than 40 vendors, all local farmers, selling bread, flowers, red beets, broccoli, lettuce, onions, cabbage, green beans, and other fruits and vegetables.
Planting the Idea
The Seattle School District closed the University Heights Elementary School in 1989. At the time the farmers market opened, the building was in use as a community center with numerous classes offered and a beautiful, but declining, physical plant.
The original suggestion for a farmers market to be held in the large playground of the erstwhile school was put forward by Julian Saucedo (Wheeler). In response to a community survey, Saucedo wrote (in the spring of 1989):
"I believe the grounds of the University Heights Elementary School would be a good place to set up a Pike Place Public Market-type of open air activity.
"This kind of outdoor market can be just like the original Pike Place Market, where customers will be able to meet the producers and farmers who make the goods. I know that some street merchants can benefit from this type of open-air activity.
"Also, I think it will be a good chance for the residents of the University District to meet farmers from rural areas" (Julian F. Saucedo Attachment to University Heights Survey).
The Seattle School District forwarded this idea to the University District Chamber of Commerce for consideration.
Coming to Fruition
The prime mover in starting the market was Chris Curtis. By 1999, the market was drawing 100,000 shoppers and made some $900,000 in sales during the season. Farmers paid $25 or 6 percent of their sales for space at the market. By then Curtis, Laura Kinney, and others had opened two more farmers markets in Seattle neighborhoods: Columbia City in 1998 and West Seattle the next year.
In 2000, Curtis and Kinney led the effort to establish the nonprofit Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance (NFMA), which went on to organize more farmers markets across the city. The community markets had strict rules: Farmers were required to grow what they sell; they could not be brokers. Between 2002 and 2007, NFMA opened farmers markets in four more Seattle neighborhoods -- Lake City (2002), Magnolia (2003), Broadway (2005, later called Capitol Hill), and Phinney (2007).
The University District Farmers Market continued to thrive. In 2007, it expanded from being open late May to November to operating every Saturday year-round. In 2013, the U District market celebrated its 20th anniversary and moved from the parking lot of the University Heights Community Center to two blocks of the street next to the center -- University Way (commonly called the Ave) between 50th and 52nd streets (with peak-season extensions north of 52nd). In the summer of 2018, Chris Curtis, "the heart of Seattle's neighborhood farmers markets" (Denn) since founding the U District market 25 years earlier, retired as executive director of NFMA.