Salt Lake City’s farmers markets draw loyal consumers

Story and slideshow by JOSH SOUTAS

Experience all that the Winter Market has to offer.

 

“We never miss a market,” said Salt Lake City local Paula Butler. Her friend, Lori Martin, added, “We come every time.” Butler and Martin are just two of the many consumers who wander around the Winter Market at 10 a.m. every other Saturday from November until April looking for locally grown produce.

The two said the combination of fresh produce, and the get-together that the Winter Market has become, is what keeps them coming back.

“It’s now as much of a social event as it is a grocery shopping event for us,” said Butler, who is also a regular at the summer Saturday Market. “Not only do you know what you are buying is healthy and good for you, but it is fun to come and meet the farmers who grow and are selling their own local products.”

In its third year, the Winter Market is held in the historical Rio Grande Depot. The train station’s tracks were first used in 1910, according to Utah Communication History Encyclopedia writer Kelsie Haymond. The old train station is transformed into a paradise for consumers who are looking for locally grown produce during the winter months. Vendors, who set up shop where passengers used to load onto trains, give the landmark building a lively atmosphere again.

The market entrance runs through the Rio Gallery, located in the Grand Lobby of the Rio Grande Depot. Shoppers on the second floor get an overhead view of the artwork in the free gallery.

Alison Einerson, market manager of the Salt Lake City Farmers Markets, said in a phone interview that the Winter Market almost exclusively features food vendors who cater to local eaters.

The Winter Market occurs when many vegetables and fruits are out of season. Einerson said that challenge was not difficult to overcome.

“It’s really eye opening to see that there are still so many locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables available, even though it is December and snowing, or February and bitter cold outside,” Einerson said. “There [are] beets, asparagus, parsley, onions, potatoes, and in my opinion our market is home to the best local baked goods.”

Einerson also agreed with market regulars Butler and Martin that many people attend the market not only for the produce, but also for the social occasion that it has become.

It is not surprising to see the Winter Market be successful even though it has not been around as long as the established Saturday Market. Farmers markets have risen in popularity with more than 8,200 nationwide, a 76 percent increase since 2008, according to the USDA.

Steven Mountford is a honey farmer with White Lake Farms. The Genola, Utah, farm has been a vendor with the Winter Market since its opening. It also takes part in the Saturday Market during the summer.

Mountford said he understands why farmers markets have been growing in popularity and size, especially in the last few years.

His explanation? He said people are starting to be curious and are caring where their food is coming from.

“It is important to expose people to the reality of where their food is coming from,” Mountford said. “People are now questioning how their food is getting to them and if it is good for them.”

Mountford isn’t wrong, according to a 2011 food dialogues survey. The survey focused on opinions, attitudes and questions that consumers and farmers had about the state of how food is raised in the U.S. The study found that “consumers think about food production constantly, yet know very little about how food is brought to the dinner table.”

Mountford believes that consumers asking questions about their food and caring where it is coming from is making a difference.

“You get customers asking restaurant owners, ‘Where did this chicken come from?’ or ‘Where did these vegetables come from?’ People didn’t used to ask these questions. And it helps motivate restaurant owners to buy locally,” he said.

Salsa Del Diablo, a Salt Lake City company, has participated in the Winters Market for two years. It also took part in the Saturday Market for the first time in 2015, one of the four Utah summer markets it participated in last year.

The company carries eight different salsa flavors in the summer, and four in the winter. Salsa Del Diablo motivates customers to buy its products by donating 1 percent of profit to adaptive sports in Utah.

Employee Jennifer Lehmbuck said the local markets are what helped the company break through into grocery stores in 2015.

“Farmers Markets open doors for local companies like Salsa Del Diablo,” Lehmbuck said.

Besides the exposure that the market has provided, Lehmbuck said she has seen other benefits of participating in markets.

“These local farmers markets build community. It helps get people connected with their food and lets them get to know where and whom their food is coming from,” Lehmbuck said. Salsa Del Diablo sources the majority of its salsa ingredients from Bangerter Farms, located in Bountiful, Utah.

Michael Pollan, author of “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” and creator of the Netflix documentary series “Cooked,” told “Nourish” that “a farmers market is kind of like a public square, and there is a nice social energy. At the farmers market, city meets country. People learn about where their food comes from and the people who grew it.”

Market Manager Einerson said this growth in community is one of the main benefits of a farmers market. It supports the local farmers and vendors.

Winter Market Transitioning to Summer Saturday Market

 The Winter Market at Rio Grande closes for the season on April 23, 2016. But Einerson and vendors are looking ahead to the Saturday Market, which will be taking place for the 25th time this year. “It has been a staple of the community here in Salt Lake City,” Einerson said.

Many of the Winter Market vendors, including Salsa Del Diablo and White Lake Farms, will return for the weekly Saturday Farmers Market. They will be joined by dozens more who did not participate in the seasonal event.

Einerson said the time off in between the markets seems seamless to staff as they work throughout May to approve applications, finalize vendor lists and assign locations in Pioneer Park.

The summer Saturday Farmers Market, along with the Arts and Crafts Market, run June 11 through October 22, 2016, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“It doesn’t seem like a long break to us because we don’t stop working. But I am sure the public miss it,” Einerson said.

Indeed, for locals like Paula Butler and the Lori Martin who “never miss a market,” the month and a half without a farmers market is too long.

Interested in finding a local farmers market near you? Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for a list of farmers markets near you.