With the approach of summer comes a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the Wood River Valley, the growing and harvesting of fruit and vegetables also prompts the opening of farmers' markets next week in Ketchum and Hailey. The Wood River Farmer's Market Association was formed in 2005 to provide management for the Ketchum and Hailey markets and support sustainable agriculture and public education.
Market manager Kaz Thea has been involved with the farmers' markets for the past five years, and this year she plans to launch a weekly newsletter to spread the word about the good food available in the valley.
"Farmers participate in both markets and some are unique to each one," Thea said. "The association formed rules and bylaws, and it's great. We want to keep a high standard and integrity to the market and not have it be a flea market."
Thea said a food safety bill before the U.S. Senate could hurt small local and sustainable markets such as the markets in Ketchum and Hailey.
"The newsletter will give information on certain bills that will impact and affect our local folks, Idaho's Bounty and the markets," Thea said. "Most people are aware and interested in signing action alerts and writing letters."
The Food Safety Modernization Act would bolster the Food and Drug Administration and tighten regulations.
"We do need strict standards and food needs to be safe," Thea said. "But the local farmer should not be targeted. The farmers' markets farmers are small and clean."
Many of the markets' most popular vendors will be back for 2010, including Prairie Sun Farms, M&M Heath Farms and Wood River Organics. Some new vendors will be selling, too.
Thea said the farmers' and artists' markets in Ketchum will share the same location for the first month because space in the Ketchum Town Square will be under construction. When completed in early July, the square will have a stage for music, which will occur weekly.
In Hailey, the market will continue to have visiting chefs in mid-July who will take fresh produce from the vendors and prepare food in the market. New vendors will sell prepared salads, homemade granola and plant starts. In addition, chef Ric Lum will offer prepared food in Ketchum.
The markets will offer jams, breads, pastas, lemonade, fresh pasta sauces and lots of greens for the first few weeks.
"The newsletter will feature profiles of the week and special coupons," Thea said. "It's a big deal for vendors to be at the markets. Everything is fresh and it lasts in the fridge for a long time, which is a big benefit."
Alongside the Ketchum and Hailey farmers' markets will also be the artists' markets, which rotate artists throughout the summer. Market hours for the Ketchum farmers' market are Tuesdays from 2:30-6 p.m. beginning June 8 through October in the Ketchum Town Square. The Hailey farmers' market, next to Main Street between Carbonate and Galena streets, will take place Thursdays from 2:30-6:30 p.m. through October.
The Ketchum artists' market is on Tuesdays beginning June 8 through Sept. 7 from 2-6 p.m. The Hailey artists' market is on Thursdays beginning June 10 through Sept. 23 from 2:30-6:30 p.m.
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Law could impact farmers
Small farmers could be at risk due to the Food Safety Modernization Act. The bill is pending before the U.S. Senate and if passed could burden small farmers with intense record keeping, which could affect business. The bill would require all growers and producers that fall under the FDA to enact food safety procedures and keep detailed records about where their food is sold so it can be traced in the event of a recall or outbreak. All operators would have to pay a yearly $500 fee and undergo more inspections, especially of producers of food considered a high risk for harmful bacteria. The bill, which would give the FDA recall authority, follows a series of food poisoning outbreaks that have touched everything from peanuts to produce.
More markets springing up
The state of Idaho reports that farmers' markets are rapidly gaining popularity across Idaho as consumer interest in locally grown produce continues to rise. "Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from," said Lacey Menasco, trade specialist at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. "Farmers' markets provide an excellent opportunity for them to establish a relationship with local farmers." This year, Idaho boasts 54 markets across the state—more than double the 24 markets operating in 2007.