Hundreds flock to Prescott Farmers Market opening
Tom Moore swears by the Prescott Farmers Market and the pure, organic food it offers residents for purchase.
Over the past several years, the Prescott Valley resident says he has bought vegetables, coffee and plants for his garden at the market, which prides itself on the natural foods it supplies from Arizona farmers, many of whom are from Yavapai County.
"Once my family started on organic food, we found out that there is nothing like it," Moore said Saturday morning from the market, which opened its 14th season in the main parking lot at Yavapai College. "It's so much better than store-bought food. If we can grow or buy organic, that's the way we'll go."
In 1997, the Prescott Farmers Market, a non-profit farmers cooperative in this county, opened with less than a handful of vendors, but it remained ambitious nonetheless.
Today, the market averages 40 vendors, and hundreds of customers flock to Yavapai College each week from May through October to buy farm-fresh and locally-grown and -made fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs, honey, baked goods, tamales and barbecue.
Agricultural crafts, body care products, gourmet foods and starter plants are also included.
On Saturday, the market kicked off with only 24 vendors, primarily because northern Arizona's extremely wet winter and cold spring delayed harvests anywhere from two to three weeks. Market manager Erin Lingo said she expects 35 vendors this coming week. About 45 vendors have registered with the Prescott market.
"We're always accepting new vendors," Lingo said. "We'll have much more vegetables and more of a produce selection over the next couple of weeks."
Moore and his wife, Heidi, say the market's organic food is much more flavorful and nutritious because farmers grow it without pesticides.
But the Moores like more than the food's taste. They believe in supporting local agriculture, which puts more money into the pockets of Arizona farmers and sustains their crops.
"For consumer consciousness, buying organic is an excellent way to go," Heidi said. "More people are starting to realize that they can make a change one action at a time."
Manuel Santana-Bendix of Flagstaff, who sells shade-grown gourmet coffee that he harvests from his organic farm in El Salvador, has attended the Prescott Farmers Market since 2003. He said the markets in Prescott and Flagstaff have a distinct character.
Santana-Bendix will return every week through October to sell his coffee. Sixty to 70 percent of his sales come directly from farmers markets.
"All of these markets have a family sense," he said. "I feel like a part of a community and I know everyone. In Prescott a lot of people know me, and it's nice."
Ernie Riley of Phoenix-based Cotton Country Jams has attended the Prescott market for the past decade. She enjoys coming back each year to sell her canned fruits and vegetables, among other items, because of the people she meets and the fact that she now knows most of her customers.
Ernie and her husband, Joe Riley, sell 87 different products. They buy produce, such as beets, tomatoes and okra, and from four farmers in Phoenix. They also purchase tomatoes from Prescott-area growers.
Ernie, her granddaughter, Amanda Hawkins, and two other ladies can the food in a commercial kitchen in Phoenix. They also make several jams, including apricot, peach and plum, as well as sauces. The jams have sugar in them to avoid the use of preservatives and additives.
The women often go through many rounds of taste-testing with their recipes before they get it right. One example is their strawberry rhubarb jam - Cotton Country's top seller.
"A lot of the recipes are mine and I've adjusted others to suit my taste," Ernie said. "But I make sure that (I and the other ladies) all like it."
Although Ernie has canned for nearly four decades, she did not begin the business until 13 years ago.
"I did it to keep me occupied," she said. "But I've got my granddaughter to help me, and she's really good at it."
The 2010 Prescott market's hours will go from 7:30 a.m. to noon every Saturday through Oct. 30.
Local growers will dispense advice while chefs give demonstrations and hand out samples of their dishes, such as breads, pasta, salads and soups.
In addition, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley will operate their own markets this summer.
PV's will run from 3 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday from June 1 through Sept. 28 in the Harkins Theatre parking lot on the corner of Glassford Hill Road and Park Avenue.
Chino's will open from 3 to 6 p.m. every Thursday from June 3 to Sept. 30 at the BonnFire Grill Restaurant, 1667 S. Highway 89.
Prescott Farmers Market is still accepting applications from local vendors, artists, volunteers, musicians and chefs who are interested in supporting any of the aforementioned markets.
For more information about the market, including its satellite locations, call Lingo at 713-1227. To apply as a vendor, log on to www.prescottfarmersmarket.org.