Summer Farmers' Market Strategies
While roadside produce stands and farmers' markets are popping up across the country selling their summer bounty, there's a misconception that Arizona's summer crop yields little more than tumbleweeds.
That couldn't be farther from the truth. While we do tend to slow down a bit and many of the smaller markets take a long summer break, there are plenty of year-round farmers' markets to keep us stalwarts supplied with summer's harvest.
Here are a few tips to make the most of your summer farmers' market experience:
1. Get an early start and be prepared for the heat. Many of the markets change their hours to start earlier during the summer months. Managers recommend arriving right at the beginning of their markets for both the coolest temperatures and the best selection of produce. Make sure to wear sunscreen and cool clothes for the outside markets. Bring a cooler for your purchases, especially if you're not headed straight home.
2. Move indoors. A few of the Valley's markets move indoors for summer, including Phoenix Uptown Farmers' Market and Mesa's Super Farm Market.
3. Celebrate warm weather fruits and veggies. Many of summer's favorite fruits and vegetables have a short season so get them while you can. With this year's mild winter and early spring, many of the crops are ripening sooner and will arrive earlier than usual to markets around the Valley. While the windstorms earlier this year may affect the robustness of local stone fruit such as peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums, look for them starting in May. Expect earlier appearances of farm and greenhouse heirloom and cherry tomatoes as well as onions, okra and indigenous squashes (such as the Mexican Gray Squash) that especially excel in the arid desert conditions.
As temperatures start gradually climbing and summer officially begins, watch for beans, Armenian cucumbers, corn, basil and the last of the flowers before the extreme heat descends on the Valley. When temperatures peak in July and August enjoy hearty fruits and vegetables such as melons (like the Juan Canary Melon), watermelon, zucchini and summer squashes. Dee Logan, founder manager of Arizona Community Farmers Markets, says, "The best melons in the U.S. come from Arizona. The heat sweetens them right up."
4. Expand beyond the Valley. Thanks to our state's microclimates, while the Valley's produce production may be focused on hearty summer crops, cooler-weather produce varieties are available at higher elevations in other parts of the state. Some local farmers have their own fields in these cooler zones; others partner with farmers in those areas to bring in items that may be out of season in Phoenix, but are in season in other parts of the state. Another option is to make your own trek to cooler climes and visit a farmers' market in Prescott, Sedona or Flagstaff, or further afield in southeastern Arizona.
No matter what corner of the Valley you reside in there are numerous markets nearby to explore Arizona flavor bite by bite. Here are a few prominent summer markets to enjoy for a quick shopping trip or leisurely stroll:
Arizona Community Farmers Markets
Started in 1989, Arizona Community Farmers Markets (ACFM) is a network of 11 markets spread across the Valley.
"Part of the importance of farmers' markets is to be a micro-business that develops and helps small agriculture industries realize themselves and reach the people they want to reach, to get feedback. These businesses bring a constant stream of talent creating a rich menu of taste and experiences that are literally palatable," says Logan. "They're key for social interactions and cultural growth."
ACFM has extended the season for many of its markets and looks to transition more markets to year-round status. Visitors will find produce from local growers, prepared foods and baked goods, honey harvested by Arizona beekeepers, flowers and local artisans.
Open through June
Old Town Scottsdale Farmers' Market, Saturday 7:30–11am at the corner of East 1st Street and North Brown Avenue in Scottsdale.
Goodyear Community Farmers' Market, 3151 N. Litchfield Rd. in Goodyear, Saturday 7:30–11am.
Open through July
Anthem Farmers' Market, 41703 N. Gavilan Peak Pkwy. in Anthem, Sunday 8am–noon.
Carefree Farmers' Market, Carefree Sundial Gardens, Friday 8–11am.
Roadrunner Farmers' Market, 3502 E. Cactus Rd. in Phoenix, Saturday 7–11am.
Mesa Community Farmers' Market, 263 N. Center St. in Mesa, Friday 9am–noon.
Ahwatukee Farmers' Market, 4700 E. Warner Rd. in Phoenix, Sunday 8–11am.
Citadelle Plaza Farmers' Market, on the corner of 59th Avenue and Utopia in Glendale, Wednesday 5–8pm.
For the complete schedule, see ArizonaCommunityFarmersMarkets.com.
Uptown Farmers' Market
With over 100 summer vendors, enjoy the indoor market at the North Phoenix Baptist Church from May until September.
Central Farmers' Market is on the Southeast corner of Central Avenue and Bethany Home Road every Saturday morning from 8am to noon; see UptownMarketAZ.com.
Tempe Community Market
With over 40 vendors, visitors to this new market can browse the freshest seasonal produce, local artisans, locally cultivated prepared foods from honey to hummus and much more. Not just a market but a weekly community event, visitors are encouraged to gather and enjoy family fun, live music and yoga.
"The importance of the market is it really supports local growers, increases access to locally grown or produced goods, provides increased food security and educates where and how healthy food is cultivated," says Stephen Sparks, market director. "We [Tempe Community Action Agency] operate the largest food pantry in the city and by joining with like-minded businesses to create a local food system encourage healthier eating amongst all demographics."
Tempe Community Market is pleasantly situated in the shade under the Loop 202 Bridge at the north end of the Mill Avenue Bridge next to Tempe Town Lake and is open year-round every Sunday from 8am to 1pm. See TempeAction.org.
Phoenix Public Market
"We are a reflection of Arizona and what it produces and the types of small businesses that prosper here, "says Dan Klocke, board director of Phoenix Public Market. "The market is a gathering point for people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate food."
Originally established with 14 vendors back in 2005, the market has grown to over 90 vendors every week. Phoenix Public Market showcases only "producer" vendors, meaning those who sell there have invested their own blood, sweat, tears and dirt under their nails to cultivate the amazing goods visitors will see.
From fresh farm produce to unique prepared foods, guests can enjoy the bustling ambiance and live music.
"I like to wander through the whole thing to get a real feel, noting what looks good, before I make a decision," recommends Klocke. "It's important to talk to the farmer to learn about the product and what makes it special."
The open-air Phoenix Public Market is held every Saturday from 8am to noon in the summer and Wednesday evenings from 5 to 8pm on the corner of Central Avenue and McKinley Street in Phoenix. See PHXpublicmarket.com.
More Summer Markets
SuperstitionFarm.com – Thursday evening, year-round.
GilbertMarket.com – Saturday, year-round
NorthScottsdaleFarmersMarket.com – Saturday, year-round.
PrescottFarmersMarket.org – Saturday, May to October; Thursday in Chino Valley.
Sedona-Farmers-Market.com – summer market Friday, May to October.
FlagstaffMarket.com – Sundays, May to October; Wednesday, June to September.