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Farmers' markets abroad pt. 2

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Earth and City got its start selling wares at farmers’ markets around Toronto. In this series, we are exploring farmers’ markets around the world, different cultures, the foods that make each unique and what we can learn from them.

Image: Brian S.

My mother is a snowbird. As you likely know, this means that when things get cold up here in Canada she gets herself down south in a jiffy and stays there until well into the spring season. Most of the time this makes me upset as I don’t get to see her for several months on end. We miss out on celebrating almost all of our family members’ birthdays as they occur over the winter and early spring months. However, from time to time this snowbird thing comes in handy - it’s a lovely and cheap (due to the free accommodation - thanks Mom!) destination to visit!

I do my best to get down there for a short visit every couple of years and love to explore what the city and surrounding areas have to offer. And as a die hard foodie that obviously includes checking out the local farmers’ market scene.

Let me start with some fun facts about agriculture in Arizona. The state has a $17.1 billion agricultural industry and growing! Obviously the weather in Arizona plays an important role in allowing it to supply the nation and beyond with produce otherwise unavailable. For example, the state produces almost all of the lettuce Americans eat during the winter months. Amazingly, farmers in Arizona can actually be planting and/or harvesting every month of the year!

The agricultural seasons in Phoenix have some similarities but also many differences compared to our Southwestern Ontario. Winter in “The Valley of the Sun” brings traditional winter crops and greens and is also citrus season - oranges and grapefruits are aplenty on my mother’s backyard trees and the produce stalls at the farmers’ markets. You can find unusual varieties at some markets including clementines, tangelos, cara cara, blood oranges, pummelos and Meyer lemons! Early springtime brings crops like ours - green garlic and asparagus - but also our typical summertime fruits (peaches, strawberries..). Late spring brings prickly pear pads and native edible flowers. Early summer brings tomato season!  Tomatoes stop setting blossoms at a certain temperature so they peak in Phoenix in June. Summer is the quieter time for local produce in Phoenix as temperatures soar. Most markets close down and farmers tend to their fields to get ready for fall. Markets reopen in the fall with chiles and the first of the season’s baby vegetables and freshly harvested dates followed by winter staples like pumpkin, root vegetables and corn. And November starts the lettuce season and brings key limes.

I’ve had the pleasure of frequenting a few of Phoenix’s farmers’ markets - Uptown, Ahwatukee, Roadrunner Park and Old Town Scottsdale Farmers’ Markets. But…. my absolute favourite, which I want to highlight in this blog post is the Open Air Market (Phoenix Public Market) in downtown Phoenix. It runs on Saturdays and is an incredible community with an amazing vibe. They also run a killer Instagram account! I now make a point to attend each and every time I’m down there.

Images: Phoenix Public Market

Attached to an incredible farm-to-table restaurant called the Public Market Cafe, this farmers’ market have been running since 2005. It prides itself on creating a natural gathering place for small farmers and businesses that strengthen sustainable food systems and produce health products for the local community.

Image: Taste It Tours

I love to start with a fair trade organic coffee from the neighbouring Cafe before roaming the stalls - tasting all the unique offerings and talking with farmers and artisans. I love the local honey vendor Beetanical Garden - the flavours of which change between seasons. I love the RAD fresh pressed juices made from local produce. I love the selection of prepared food from local vendors and food trucks - some serving up the best Mexican you can find. The greens in ‘winter’ are a treat and the citrus fruits are to die for!

I’m heading down to Phoenix again this April and suffice to say I’ll be heading straight to the Open Air Market on Saturday morning. I have never tasted the seasonal offerings in April and let’s just say I’m drooling over here just thinking about it.

Do you have a favourite farmers’ market in Arizona or the USA? Do you have a favourite farmers’ market elsewhere abroad? Let us know in the comments below!  

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