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Arizona Community Farmers Market Group

Arizona Farmers’ Markets:

A Very Brief History  by Dee Logan

Once upon time, about 24 years ago an interesting concept was discussed and organized in the

office of then mayor Terry Goddard and the forward thinking members of the Phoenix City

Council. How about bringing a farmers market to the downtown Phoenix area; specifically

to the newly renovated Heritage Square Park?

 

It would highlight the Square and

bring foot traffic over to this lovely, but

somewhat hidden jewel, which was

part of the redevelopment district in

Phoenix. And it would emphasize the

agricultural roots of the downtown

area.

Good plan, but, as the organizing

committee soon found, a little difficult

to implement since most of the farming

was large scale mono-cropping based

on wholesale exports such as cotton,

citrus, cattle and vegetable crops that

tended to be lettuce.

The small family farms that once

populated certain areas of the valley

had given way to larger concerns – and

to the large suburban developments

that surrounded the city. Farm stands

were fewer and pretty far out. The once

prolific Japanese flower farms that

bloomed along Baseline Drive were

disappearing. And the neighborhood

citrus trees that were full of abundant

seasonal fruit went to gleaners and

churches to pick and hand over to food

pantries.

Folks, who have lived in the Valley

of the Sun for a while, are familiar

with this story. Newcomers from

other locales may be unaware of this.

The important point is that with the

organizing of this one market in the

spring of 1989, a trend started to

reverse itself – that is the loss of the

small farming enterprise that sold

directly to the consumer.

 

In the spring of 1990 a second

market was started at the Phoenix City

Council’s behest. It eventually found

a permanent home at Roadrunner

Park. And with these two markets

and a dozen or so small farmers and

backyard growers – a movement

would start in Arizona that would

demonstrate that locally grown and

locally produced farm and food items

had a wide broad-based appeal to the

direct consumer.

With the success of these two

markets, other communities and

cities began to take notice, and other

farmers markets were organized. In

1994 there were six markets organized

in the valley. By 1996 new markets

statewide were organizing, the count

was approaching 15. And by 2000 the

count was almost double that.

An amazing thing began to happen.

There was an overwhelming demand

for farmers markets, and not enough

farmers to populate them. This was an

exploding growth industry waiting to

happen. The farmers who were once

marginalized by suburban sprawl

were becoming rock stars.

New markets were opening at an

astounding rate. Some were organized

to provide support for more rural area

farmers with direct consumer contact,

and to support a burgeoning consumer

demand. And somewhat ironically,

others were organized by commercial

retail centers with the intent of luring

the consumer dollar back into the

retail area. Ironically - because many

of those centers stand on what was

once productive farmland.

Now the Downtown Phoenix Public

Market has taken up the mantle that

the city once envisioned at Heritage

Square. A thriving urban market that

hosts a weekly Saturday market and

is the home to dozens of farming

and food entrepreneurs.

There are farmers markets in

almost every major town and city,

with more being planned for

the future. At the last count

over 60 markets are active

in communities around

the state. Some have

one or two growers

and some have

dozens. Some are

seasonal and some

year round. All are

responding to economic

and community drives to

recreate that sense of the

communal gathering place that

these markets so well embody.

As a final note - the Roadrunner Park

Farmers Market is now celebrating it’s

22nd year in operation and it’s 20th

year as a year round wonder - making

it the oldest outdoor farmers market in

the state. Talk about longevity!

 

Dee Logan is the senior coordinator

for the Arizona Community Farmers

Market Group whose mission

is defined as “An Association

of Valley Markets supporting

direct, sustainable commerce

between local area farmers

and producers and their

surrounding community.”