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Micro Greens, Micro Economy - A Tucson Treasure

Roxanne Garcia, manager of Farmers Market TucsonWhat do micro greens and organic dog treats have in common? Ask Roxanne Garcia, manager of Farmers Market Tucson and you’ll get a passionate lecture on economics.  As she speaks, Garcia turns and points to the different vendors at St. Philip's Farmer’s market on a brisk, January Sunday morning and with each stall she tells a story. “Come on”, she says, “let me walk you around”.  Coffee in hand, we set off on a tour,

“This woman”, she stops in front of a stall displaying small cakes, “ is a single mom. She does this to supplement family income but at the same time she is learning new skills – marketing, customer service, product presentation. She’s growing a micro business. She’s part of a trend”.

There are similar stories as we walk the stalls, dodging dogs, children, cyclists wheeling their bikes. St. St. Philip's Farmer's MarketPhilip’s Farmers market is a happening and with 10 years of continuous operation, it’s become a Tucson fixture for aficionados of fresh, seasonal produce, organically raised meats and fish, locally roasted coffee, specialty teas. The list goes on. You name it and if it’s good for you and grown in the Santa Cruz valley and immediate environs, chances are it’s represented at this market.

Garcia tells me that agriculture is in her blood. She’s not a farmer but comes from farming stock. Her enthusiasm for this market is contagious. “It’s about building community", she explains. “We give local growers and vendors a place to sell their produce and products. We give people starting out with the seed of an idea the chance to test that idea and develop a business. It has a trickle down effect within the community. Small business thrives; we cut down on the carbon footprint; individuals realize dreams; the community supports them and the revenue stays within the community encouraging further development of local products.”

St. Philip's farmer's market

We linger at Orange Treasure Groves, “This is the last surviving citrus grove in Tucson” she tells me. At La Oesta Gardens, doing a brisk business in seasonal greens, the history is explained. “They are Laotians. They began selling what they grew on a one acre plot from their car port….now look” Even in mid-winter the stall is vibrant with bundles of just picked chard, lettuces, basil, mint,arugula and Asian melons.

We pass the roasting chili peppers - the scent is pure Tucson; she gestures to the Double Stack Ranch stall. “Organic beef, no antibiotics and, they are good people too’ she adds. Grass fed lamb is available at another stall. “I’m looking for a local maker of artisanal cheeses” she tells me as we pass the bread vendor. "Here, she gestures toward a man selling a variety of Alaskan fish, smoked and frozen, "is a real fisherman. He catches during the summer months off Alaska."

“This is the trend. Organic, locally grown, fresh to you, good for you …small business’ part of the community, it’s got to be the trend for the future. Giving women, giving people with a dream, a place to share that.” If the bustle, riotous mingling of sights and scents, live music, family groups, is anything to go by, this market is leading the way.

St. Philip's Farmer's MarketThe stall owners pay $40 dollars a week for their spot at this, the most vibrant of Tucson Farmer’s Markets. They pass stringent requirements to earn that place. Garcia looks for  diversity and while some merchants do offer similar products, they are encouraged to hold prices and not undercut one another.  Unlike like other markets, non-food products are limited to 20 percent of total stall space and they too must have some connection with food, with the land, with the local economy. Specialty soaps, dog treats, potted herbs, salsas, sauces, spreads, bean soup mixes, they jostle for a place within the beautiful plaza and spill out into the lusciously landscaped parking areas. You can get a cup of fresh roasted coffee from Adventure Coffee Roasting, pick up a pastry from one off the two bakeries represented and perch on the edge of the fountain, eat breakfast and listen to a guitar quartet. Along with fresh greens and citrus you can take home empanada's for an easy lunch or bite into them right there, sitting on a blanket spread on the grass, as I saw one family doing on my recent visit.

As I toured the market with Roxanne Garcia, people caught up with us, asking her to look at samples, suggesting small changes in display features, eager to talk and connect with her. It’s clear that her vision motivates and drives this thriving weekly gathering. She’s eager to introduce more events at the market that will showcase vendors and the community. “Water harvesting”, she says, “It’s big. I want to get a demonstration here.”

St. Philip's Farmer's market

We end our tour in front a stall that made me smile…Iversons Knife Sharpening…how appropriate because the market certainly made me want to get into the kitchen sharpen my knives and cook! Instead though, I settled (what sacrifice) for a pulled pork sandwich from Rods K.C. Bar-b-que, found a step to sit on and watched the world go by. I didn’t forget to buy an organic treat for my pooch waiting at home.

Upcoming Events
Citrus Festival January 18th. Highlighting local citrus.
Graze Fest March 22. Features the market's grass-fed and pasture-raised meat, poultry and pasture farmed foods.

Details of the market and a list of the close to 60 vendors can be found at www.farmersmarkettucson.com   The market is open every Sunday year round and located in St. Philip's Plaza at the south east corner of River and Campbell. There is plenty of parking and the market is also accessible from the River Walk. There is a seasonal variation in hours. Through end of April hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and May 1 to mid October, 8 a.m. to noon. Cash is encouraged as is asking vendors for taste samples! Do what the regulars do, bring along your own reusable bag, the dog and the kids and plan on spending the morning.  Roxanne Garcia also manages the Oro Valley Farmer's Market that is held each Saturday.

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