Kurt Kieffer
Produce purveyor, Sosio's Produce, 1527 Pike Place (in the Pike Place Market), 622-1370.

Sure, he's a wickedly handsome, whip-smart, freakishly talented industrial sculptor (profits from a spring show at the Green Room partially funded his European travels this summer), but Kieffer's also a highly knowledgeable veteran produce buyer who knows all too well the highs and lows of working long days at the Pike Place Market. While his next appearance should be on the cover of Art News, he's currently alternating his time between shifts at two produce stands and getting back on his financial feet after a three-month jaunt through Amsterdam, Prague, Istanbul, Budapest, and Paris.

What's the most worthwhile lesson you've learned about human nature while working in the Market?

"That everybody down here--from all walks of life--has something unique about them. And, because it's the Market, people are forced to interact with each in different ways than they do in other stores. So even though you see plenty of bad people, you usually can find something good or unique about an individual."

That's awfully kumbaya of you. When I walk around on crowded days I tend to get very aggravated with all the tourists.

"But if you're working down here every day, you get to know your regulars, and you also meet people you won't ever see again--people from all over the country and all over the world. And sometimes you can learn a lot, even from a very brief interaction."

Did you go to other public markets while you were in Europe?

"Yeah, everywhere we went."

Did you notice any striking similarities or differences between them and Pike Place Market?

"When we went to this one in Istanbul, I noticed some workers goofing around, fake wrestling, that sort of thing... the more I talked to them, [the more] I realized it was very similar. Everyone's there because it's an 'alternative' work environment. I think also you have to develop a sense of humor about yourself and the people around you while you're at work, and I noticed that there."

Tell me what you've learned about agriculture since you've been working here. Has it changed your personal buying habits?

"Yes--I look for things that are local and in season. Buying that way supports the community because you're buying from local farms. And just by learning the crop seasons... what comes along with that is a lot of recipes. Other people who shop that way come in and share their ideas--different insights on what you can get out of different fruits and vegetables and different preparations."

So what's the best in-season crop right now?

"It's apple and pear season, as well as greens, lettuces, squash, beets, and carrots."

One last, very important question: Do you know where baby corn comes from?

"No, sorry. I've heard people talk about it, but I don't know the real answer."

Interview by Hannah Levin

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