September 1, 2010

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Garden Variety

Farmers Markets Offer the Cream of Local Crops

Nina Bennett

September 1, 2010

But one of the most important benefits of CSA is that it supports the local agricultural industry and keeps farms afloat. Michelle Roberts, co-owner of Roberts Ranch and Gardens in Spanish Fork, converted to a CSA farm in 2009 after 25 years. The new CSA-focused farm has been highly successful.

"It provides work opportunities for our kids," Roberts says, "It makes good use of the land, it benefits families to eat right out of the garden and we get to connect with the community." Consumers benefit from CSA farms because, says Roberts, "They get the freshest produce that is locally, organically grown with no chemically-based pesticides, that hasn’t been sitting in a warehouse, isn't picked too early and is full of vitamins."

She has also noticed that consumers are becoming more concerned about supporting local businesses and keeping their money local, a benefit to buyers and farmers alike. Working farms also aid in natural resource preservation—including water and soil, and act as a habitat for wildlife.

It is easy to see why the popularity of farmers markets and programs like CSA—which champion the environment, people's health, communities and pocketbooks—are at an all time high.

Fresh and Affordable
Just how good are deals at farmers markets? While purchasing organic food may seem like “splurging,” on average most produce at farmers markets is cheaper than at grocery stores. Farmers are also quick to offer good deals.

A program enacted by The People's Market offers a token-exchange that allows people to use their Horizon cards (food stamps) to buy food, and will even match dollar for dollar any money spent. The founder of the People's Market, Kyle LaMalfa, says the program was created "for all income levels to enjoy healthy food." LaMalfa abides by a "pay what's fair" policy for the heirloom tomatoes he grows, letting people pay what they believe to be the going price.

One key advantage the People's Market has over retail stores, according to LaMalfa, is the way that vendors respond to customer's needs, including negotiated pricing and custom orders. “Almost every vendor is willing to do some kind of custom order," LaMalfa says, "so you can truly get personalized with your shopping…whether you have a favorite soap you want more of, or want the biggest tomato set aside for you, it can be done.”

While farmers markets spare some pocketbooks, they can add to others. With jobs scarce, some people who sell at the markets are either supplementing their income or solely supporting themselves on the profits gained. Delano James, an artist who has sold more than 400 paintings at the Salt Lake Downtown Farmers Market, was laid off from his job as a graphic designer several months ago, but has been able to survive on his artwork earnings. He notes that in the past few years, he has a seen a change in market patrons, a further indication of its popularity and its value to consumers. “You get a lot more serious buyers,” he says.

Exposure in the market has also allowed James to collaborate profitably on other projects with organizations such as the Utah Arts Council, an opportunity he would not have been afforded otherwise.

Carolyn Kenyon of Kenyon Organics, a long time shopper of the Downtown Farmers Market who is now a vendor and runs a full-time vegetables and gourmet-greens business, has also been able to network and expand her business through exposure in the market. "My favorite part of the business is meeting people," she says, "and it has allowed me to work on other projects and market our products."

All in all, farmers markets are truly a not-to-be-missed experience. Beyond the booths that host a spread of just-plucked produce, exceptional artwork, clothing, herbal bunches and baked goods, you can find cooking demonstrations, street performers, live music and cuisine from around the world—a welcoming parade of culture that invites you to get in the mix, all while growing the local economy and community.

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