WASHINGTON COUNTY – It’s the middle of growing season and farmers markets are thriving. Take a stroll through some of the county’s finest.
Downtown Farmers Market
Five years ago, the owners of the Painted Pony restaurant saw a need to provide local farmers with a place to promote and sell their products to the public. They transformed that need into what is now the Downtown Farmers Market at Ancestor Square, in the heart of historic St. George.
Starting in late spring and ending in mid-fall, the market is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. A wide variety of products such as lotions, crocheted fabrics and jewelry are featured, though emphasis is placed on fresh produce. Vendors travel from as close as Santa Clara to as far as Cedar City to service both returning customers and eager newcomers.
“We are unique because we are a farmers market first,” market director Jil Gardella said. “We are a true community market that draws the (people) who support eating fresh and buying local.”
The Painted Pony has remained a loyal supporter throughout the market’s five seasons and other businesses have since lent a hand, but Gardella and her staff are actively searching for more sponsors. Profits and funds raised each week help keep operations running and advertising going throughout the summer. Parties interested in contributing can contact the market through their web page.
“I have gained many new customers (thanks to the Downtown Farmers Market), many of whom have become faithful repeat customers,” said Paul Wilson, who manufactures and sells the Island Trend line of organic skin care products in St. George. “I enjoy the opportunity to sell my products and mix with both vendors and visitors. It is a great place for small companies like mine to (gain) exposure and make new friends.”
Zion Canyon Farmers Market
The Zion Canyon Farmers Market boasts not only fresh natural products but stunning views of Zion National Park, thanks to its scenic location at the Bit and Spur Restaurant and Saloon in Springdale. It is sponsored by Zion Harvest, a nonprofit group promoting gardening, local farming and other environmentally oriented activities whose members also have a community garden in the town. Run entirely through the efforts of volunteers, any profits not garnered by the vendors and entertainers returns to Zion Harvest to assist them in furthering their educational programs.
The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, April through October. An average of 10 vendors attend each week to offer products ranging from cheese and baked goods to essential oils and goat milk soap. Though some come from as far as Salt Lake City, others are based closer to home, like the Jam Lady, a long-time Hurricane resident and faithful Zion Canyon merchant.
Live music is another staple of the market. Co-sponsored by the all-volunteer Z-Arts organization and several Washington County businesses, the majority of the talent is local and spans a wide variety of genres and tastes. Among the performers this summer are guitarist and singer Christina Osborn, the Sunset Corner Bluegrass Band and country/bluegrass/gospel duo Stillhouse Road.
“We have great (entertainment) each week,” said Lisa Zumpft, chairwoman of the Zion Harvest board of directors. “This is a great market (if you want) to buy farm-fresh produce, enjoy locally brewed coffee, socialize and spend a Saturday morning in a beautiful location.”
Frei’s Fruit Market
By far the most enduring farmers market in Washington County, Frei’s Fruit Market has long been a community favorite. It was founded in 1956 by Landon and Wanda Frei of Santa Clara, who set up a table in their front yard and sold home-grown produce to townspeople and travelers passing through. As the years passed, many other local produce stands came and went, but Frei’s continued to gain a reputation for offering high quality fruits and vegetables.
In 2007, a new produce stand was built at 2895 Santa Clara Drive and Frei’s catalog gradually expanded to include beans, salsa, honey, and jellies. The majority of products are grown locally, with a few being imported from farms in Colorado. Business hours are
Frei’s Fruit Market is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Sunday, from May to October.
“Selling at a farmers market is the best way to market our produce,” said Jill Simkins, owner of Cricket Song Farm in Beryl. “We can personally receive feedback from customers. The joy on a client’s face when they express how good an item tasted makes all the hot, sweaty work worth it.”
Simkins uses all-natural growing methods and picks mere hours before market time, ensuring that vegetables are high in nutrients and completely chemical-free. Since establishing the farm in 1993, she has become a regular vendor at the Downtown Farmers Market and others in both Washington and Iron counties. She is extremely enthusiastic about the concept of farmer’s markets and the good they do for both vendors and buyers.
“If people would shop at (these markets) they would discover a wonderland of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables grown right in their area,” she said. “(You will) experience food that will make you slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of eating and life. It will just plain make you happy!”
Though the benefits of participating in a farmers market appear boundless, there are also many unique challenges. D.J. Mitchell, owner of the Jackrabbit Ranch in Paragonah, which sells artisan goat and cow cheeses, said that the toasty Southern Utah climate makes it difficult to keep product temperatures regulated. Spreading his small staff across three or four markets on one Saturday in multiple cities or even counties is also trying.
But these drawbacks are far outweighed by the connections he has made with both customers and fellow farmers.
“Farmers markets are our bread and butter,” he said. “We’re proud of what we do and wish everyone could know where and how their food is produced. Nowhere else can you find both excellent food and get to know the people who made it.”
Copyright 2012 St. George News.