Stacy Oliva loved growing up in Nikiski, enough to stay and raise her kids there.
But she said there was never a place for the community to gather.
“That would be one of the things that I probably disliked about living here," she said.
Two years ago, Oliva set out to create a hub for the community when her family opened Nikiski Hardware & Supply. Last summer, she started holding a farmers market in the store’s parking lot.
There are seven vendors signed up for the market this year. Lou Heite, who owns Eagle Glade Farms, is one of them.
“I think what Stacy’s doing with the farmers market in Nikiski is wonderful," she said. "It's much needed. And if it can become a focal point for the community that will be absolutely delightful.”
Unlike Kenai and Soldotna, Nikiski doesn't have much of a downtown. One of the focal points of the community is the Nikiski Community Recreation Center. There have been some grassroots efforts to create more places to gather locally, like a volunteer-built Nikiski Community Park.
Oliva’s store is just off the Kenai Spur Highway, by Island Lake Road. The building is big and open, made partly from recycled wood from local homesteads. Oliva’s daughter runs the cafe in the front of the store.
There’s also a large parking lot out front. That’s where Oliva holds the farmers market.
“Nikiski has got a lot of sprawl," Oliva said. "We’ve got a lot of land that’s really spread out. And with the hardware store and Old Goat Cafe, we wanted to have a little bit of a hub location. A gathering place.”
There are already several popular markets on the central peninsula. But Oliva wanted one closer.
“Because we are so far away from Soldotna," she said.
Heite said that proximity is really important.
“What matters to me is that they’re putting really good food in the way of people who don’t have an opportunity to get it," she said. "While Nikiski’s not quite a food desert — if the definition of a food desert is no grocery store within a mile, then most of this part of the peninsula is a food desert.”
But she said there are lots of people growing food in Nikiski, even if they’re not part of the central peninsula’s mainstream farmers market culture.
“There are high tunnels and fields and gardens tucked here and there all throughout this area and they’re not really on the map the way Homer is, for instance," Heite said.
She said the market is a boon for those producers. Oliva said that’s partly the point.
“And long-term thinking, it’s a way that we can support the people who are investing their energy into farming skills and developing their property into farming food," she said.
The Nikiski Farmers Market runs every Monday starting June 14 through Sept. 14. The market will be open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
North Peninsula Recreation Service Area is also holding its first ever farmers market this summer. That’s happening Fridays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.