As an organic farm apprentice years ago, Liz Paruchuru discovered she had a passion for educating people on farms and food accessibility at Arcata Plaza Farmers Market in California. She has always believed that farmers markets have the power to create vibrant communities.
Paruchuru grew up in New York with an infatuation with the West Coast. In 2014, she followed her desires and settled on the Eastside where she spent years as a stay-at-home mom. Eventually, she joined Hopelink, a Bellevue nonprofit in 2017. This introduced her to Bellevue's residents, businesses and organizations like the Bellevue Farmers Market (BFM).
In 2019, Paruchuru came across a job description at the Bellevue Farmers Market that read, "Must be as comfortable in city hall as the farm fields." She applied for the job and became their marketing engagement manager. Today, Paruchuru continues to collaborate with vendors, customers, businesses, and the city at large to ensure the market thrives for generations to come.
This year, the Bellevue Farmers Market will run from 3-7 p.m. every Thursday starting May 12 through October 6 at Bellevue Presbyterian Church. As we look forward to opening day, Paruchuru shares what you can expect from this year's season, how BFM supports the community and her favorite spots around Downtown.
The Bellevue Farmers Market (BFM) opens in two days! What can we look forward to this season?
The Bellevue Farmers Market is entering its 19th season of highlighting local farmers and fresh food on the Eastside. Each market day comprises a unique mix of vendors offering seasonal fruits & vegetables, cut flowers, fresh meats, one-of-a-kind artisan goods, and tasty cuisine. This year, we'll have 40 vendors at the high season, a big jump from pandemic times when we could only accept about 28. Weekly music, children's activities, community partner booths, food trucks and dining on site will return too. We're excited to see the community again!
What is your favorite part about working for BFM?
My favorite part is market days, where we connect regional growers and food producers with our Bellevue neighbors. The Bellevue Farmers Market is where citizens can feel confident about what they eat and the products they purchase because it's all locally sourced. We get to see the joy on people's faces when they enter the parking lot. The best part about the Bellevue Farmers Market is we're one of the only intergenerational public spaces. We see everyone from tiny babies to 90-year-olds come out and enjoy the experience. It's an important thing to happen in a community, and we're glad to curate the space.
What is unique about BFM compared to other markets around the country?
I think the community is unique because we have customers and vendors from all around the world. We tend to see more familiar faces than larger markets that are in dense areas. We don't only have tourists that happen upon our market when walking by. We often see families who come out with a cart and stock up on groceries every week.
How does BFM support food accessibility in Downtown Bellevue?
As a nonprofit, we want to continue enhancing food access. It's part of our mission. While Bellevue is a prosperous place, we still have many residents here who are financially struggling. The Bellevue Farmers Market is the only market on the Eastside that participates in the SNAP Market Match program. If a customer comes in to use EBT, they can swipe their card for up to $40 and we'll double the amount they swipe. So, if they swipe for $40, we'll give them $80 to spend at the market. It's an amazing program that helps the entire Eastside community and that's important to us.
Any fun BFM programs for kids or families?
We have something called Two-Bite Challenge for kids ages 3-12. If a child takes two bites from any featured seasonal produce item at our Power of Produce (POP) Kids Club, we will give them $2 in tokens to spend on any fruits and vegetables at the market. It's a fantastic wraparound program where we get to encourage children to try new foods grown directly in our region and more dollars goes towards farmers.
Where do you see Downtown Bellevue in 3-5 years?
My hope for Bellevue is that we have more activation in public spaces. More people will see Downtown as a destination, especially when the light rail comes in. Folks from Seattle will come into Bellevue to spend their weekend checking out different activities and going to restaurants and attractions like the Bellevue Arts Museum and Bellevue Botanical Garden.
What do you love about working in Downtown?
I love working downtown because the diversity in Bellevue is impressive. I'm married to an Indian American man and we have biracial children, and it feels good to look around and see other families that look like ours.
I also think that Bellevue has incredible resources. Bellevue seems to draw in intelligent people who have progressive worldviews and mindsets capable of solving issues facing urban environments. I know our downtown has all the ingredients to create change and be a model American city.
Where are your favorite places to dine in Downtown?
I love Bellden Cafe. It's one of those places that I feel good spending my dollars at because the owner, Claire, is so involved in the community. I also want to give a shout out to Araya's Place, a vegan Thai restaurant and bar located in Old Bellevue. Their staff is so welcoming and every dish has such a great flavor profile. I feel good eating there because I know they serve high-quality ingredients.
Do you have any favorite hidden gems in Bellevue?
The Bellevue Botanical Garden is well known in the area but I consider it my own hidden gem. It's just one of those places where I can bring my children and see something so exquisite. We always have great conversations there and love to bring friends.
Where do you see the Bellevue Farmers Market in 3-5 years?
I hope that we can host even more markets. Ideally, farmers markets are hyper-local, but we've seen a higher demand for the Bellevue Farmers Market. Bellevue has so many neighborhoods and it would be compelling to serve more neighborhoods.
I also want to partner with other organizations and host collaborative events together. I'm dreaming about wintertime when we can host a shared farmers market with a holiday or craft addition. There's a lot of growth we can do if we get more people involved. We already have amazing business sponsors from Amazon, PACCAR, UW Medicine, Puget Sound Energy and other small businesses and community volunteers around the area. Without the support we get every year, we wouldn't be able to do this.
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Bellevue Farmers Market 1717 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA 98004