Friday, June 5, 2009

Farmers' markets gear up for summer

Outdoor emporiums will offer fresh food, produce and crafts

Express Staff Writer

Kaz Thea is the market manager for the Wood River Farmerís Market Association and is a founder of Idahoís Bounty, a regional food cooperative. Photo by Mountain Express

With the arrival of summer comes a bounty of farm products and artistic wares. In the Wood River Valley, that is especially true.

The valley has embraced farmers' markets for years, but in recent times the markets have become better organized and are increasingly important entities for the community. These days, the valley farmers' markets in Ketchum and Hailey operate beside a companion business, an artists' market.

The farmers' market will open in Ketchum on Tuesday, June 9, from 2:30-6:30 p.m. on Fourth Street downtown. The artists' market will be open from 12-8 p.m. in the adjacent Town Plaza. In Hailey, the markets will start the season on Thursday, June 11. Both markets will be open from 2:30-6:30 p.m. in their joint location on Main Street between Carbonate and Galena streets.

"The farmers' market and artists' market are two separate markets but customers can't tell because it looks like one market," said farmers' market organizer Kaz Thea.

Thea said the farmers' market has evolved and gone through a lot of growing pains, especially in Hailey. The market had several locations there before settling into its current Main Street locale. Volunteers and donations have made the landscaped lot accessible and comfortable. And sharing the site with the artists' market has been a success, Thea said.

"The farmers' market is 25 percent crafts and 75 percent food and this year the artists' market requested to join the Ketchum market," Thea said.

Most of Idaho's abundant agricultural products—up to 90 percent—go out of state, Thea said. The Wood River Valley farmers' markets feature products grown locally and seasonally, and the products do not travel from more than a 100-mile radius of the valley, she said.

"There is no resale," Thea said. "A market participant must be a grower or a producer. I am one of the original founders of Idaho's Bounty, which is a huge movement for locally produced and grown food. The farmers' market fits right in."

Thea said farmers' markets are having more success because many farmers are growing food earlier in the season, planting earlier and using growing houses. Indeed, in many parts of the country, farmers are accommodating a growing need for locally grown organic foods, which increasing numbers of people view as better for the environment and better for their health.

"It's more than just a fad—it's a big movement," Thea said.

Thea believes farmers' markets and food coops play an essential role as an alternative to the commercial food chain, which she said is dominated by a handful of corporations whose products might be susceptible to terrorism or disease.

The markets will feature some special items this year, including sheep's milk cheese from Shoshone, Idaho elk meat, local wine and flower baskets from Buhl.

"I have worked to create a market culture," Thea said. "It's a social event with music every week and ready-made food is always available. ... And backyard gardeners should feel free to come to the markets and talk to farmers."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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