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A year in, Nikiski market provides community hub for farmers and creators

Nikiski.Market.JPG
Riley Board
/
KDLL
Heidi Covey stands with her booth Veggies and Stuff at the Farmers Monday Market in Nikiski.

On the second day of the second ever season of the Farmers Monday Markets in Nikiski, farmers, creators and shoppers turned out for local wares. After years of finding their closest local markets in Kenai or Soldotna, longtime Nikiski residents said they’re thrilled to sell their wares in their own community.

“I’ve thought about doing the larger markets, but this is home, you know, and everyone I’m meeting is like my friends and neighbors," said Geri Litzen, the artist behind the business To the Moon and Back.

Litzen has lived in Nikiski, as she put it, “forever.” She’s one of the vendors who makes it out each week to the Nikiski Hardware & Supply parking lot for the market, which was founded in 2021 by the hardware store’s owner, Stacy Oliva.

Last year, Oliva told KDLL she wanted to create a hub for the community in Nikiski, which is spread out and, as it stands, has few places to gather.

Heidi Covey was also involved in starting the market. She said the market was also inspired by pandemic-related supply chain fears and a desire to create a food-sustainable community.

“It was kinda scary to have that hit our country. We’re at the end of the food chain here," Covey said. "So once the shelves get empty in Seattle, we’re gonna have nothing here. So having this skill set — or being able to share this skill set with others and teach this — will keep food in your panty when crazy things like that happen.” 

Covey’s booth is called Veggies and Stuff and is at the market weekly. She’s been in Nikiski for nearly 40 years, and she said she’s hoping to see the return of mom-and-pop businesses to the area, instead of more chain stores.

The market only has a few vendors — there were five on Monday, including an egg vendor that sold out in the morning. In the market’s first year, Covey spent many Mondays as the only vendor. And she said she often worried about whether the market would take off, but she’s encouraged by new booths this summer.

Today, Litzen’s booth is laden with stickers, socks, onesies, shirts, pins and other items adorned with her characteristic watercolor paintings of animals and flowers.

Destiny Jackson is set up at another corner of the parking lot.

“I run Radiant Wear, which started off as headbands for women," Jackson said. "And I had a baby and I decided to make everything under the sun. So now I make bows and clothes and dresses and kids sweatshirts. It’s just a hobby outside of motherhood.”

Many vendors have one major thing in common with the market that hosts them: they started their businesses because of the newfound free time, creative inspiration and general disruptive atmosphere of COVID-19.

Jackson spent the pandemic learning to sew. Litzen started painting because of a game she played with her daughter in 2020. The two of them would fill a jar with themed ideas, and pull one out to do as an activity for the evening; one night it was painting, which Litzen had never really tried before.

“I just had the time to, as I say, make as many mistakes as necessary to get something I liked. I painted this little bear, and my friends wanted some, and I thought ‘I’ll make it into a little sticker.’ And that’s how it started," she said. Litzen said it has been a boon during the difficult years of the pandemic.

“I didn’t realize I needed this creative expression in my life, but it’s been great. I love it," she said.

Litzen said her biggest weakness is giving away free stickers to any kids that ask at the market. She’s also designed a rooster logo that the egg vendors have printed onto t-shirts to wear at their stand.

Kids at the market gravitate toward Covey’s booth, too. On Monday, a group of three dropped by seeking her locally famous marshmallows, which come in fruit flavors and “adult” flavors, like Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. She usually brings a jar of individual marshmallows which she sells to kids at 50 cents a piece.

One thing that was evident Monday was the care and sense of community among the vendors.

Covey said it’s part of the ethos of the market — if we’re not taking care of our neighbors, she said, then what are we doing?

You can visit the Nikiski Farmers Monday Market from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every week until August 29.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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