Kaz Thea supervises apple juicing at the Hailey market a few years ago. Both markets have expanded their offerings to engage younger people in hopes of inspiring healthy choices.
Express photo by Willy Cook
here’s a feeling of intimacy that people get from buying food from local farmers. While holding a tomato or examining strawberries, many people still clench to the old ways of purchasing produce.
At the local farmers market, it’s a commune of true food lovers and farmers who farm out of passion. Whether it’s picking a head of lettuce or a sugar beet, knowing where the food your body consumes came from is something that can’t be substituted.
For the Wood River Valley, the benefits of the Wood River Farmers Market are a lively social atmosphere, an economic boon for locals and a celebration of health and well-being. The market kicks off its first week in Ketchum on Tuesday, June 11, and will run every Tuesday thereafter. The Hailey market will begin on Thursday, June 13, and will continue every Thursday. The markets—which are open from 2-6 p.m.—will run through mid-October.
It’s not only about getting some shopping done; it’s fun, too. Children are getting their faces painted, food trucks sell fresh chicken tacos, freshly baked pies are on display and music can be heard in the background.
“There is an aspect of being social because when we talk about food, we talk about how it’s a social thing,” said Kaz Thea, an organizer of the market who sits on the board of the Idaho Farmers’ Alliance and is the board secretary of Idaho’s Bounty, a cooperative of regional farmers. “We have potlucks, barbecues and dinner parties. Social settings are a very important piece of the farmers market.”
You might run into an old friend you haven’t seen in a while or meet someone new who might have a mutual fascination with it all. While crowds of people peruse around at every vendor, faint smells of fresh fruits, vegetables, dirt, hard work and love for farming fill the air.
Communal and economic impacts associated with small farmers markets can be quite big. The social aspects make a community vibrant while supporting the local economy. It can keep local money circulating through the region.
Thea, who’s been an environmentalist her entire life, knows the benefits of not just the social and economic value of a farmers market, but also the health benefits and environmental impacts of the organic foods they sell. And the farmers play the biggest role, she said. To have an organic farm means there are no herbicides, pesticides or insecticides being used, which means no chemicals will go into our bodies and won’t penetrate into the earth.
“We’re being kinder to the earth,” Thea said, noting that livestock also benefit from organic farms. “Animals are treated kindly and fairly. A free-range chicken is healthier; it’s the right food for your body. Local chickens have more Omega-3 than Omega-6, which is better for you.”
It’s not easy to practice organic farming. Organic farmers or farmers who practice with organic methods must get organic certification first, which means leaving their fields untouched by toxins for up to three years. The soil is then tested repeatedly to make sure that no chemicals have been used in the area.
Farmers markets can also offer food that is fresh. The produce isn’t coming from 1,500 miles away in California and being stored, so it can last longer. Produce that is picked the day it is sold can last up to two weeks.
Organic farmers and farmers who use organic methods are turning to education about the values of natural foods versus foods from genetically modified seeds, called GMO foods. According to Thea, there has been a big push for every state to require labeling of GMO foods, which she believes are harmful to the environment.
“It devastates the wildlife,” Thea said. “At this point, there is a push to unify people so we can be a stronger voice. Education is a big deal. Farmers collaborate with methods and how they grow their foods.”
Some people in the farming community are voicing their opinions about GMO foods. One of those people is John Caccia of Ketchum. Caccia is a passionate vegetable gardener who touts the benefits of organic local foods. He has been growing his own food for the past 20 years.
When the human body consumes produce that is non-organic, he said, it can starve for nutrition, which can make the body hungrier and encourage consumption of more food.
“We’re so lucky to have the
farmers market and to be
in central Idaho.”
However, with locally grown organic food, there is more natural taste and the human body will get the right amount of nutrition, he said. Organic food also has the right enzymes to break down food to get the nutritional value your body needs, he said. Without the right amount of enzymes, our bodies’ immune system can become weak, he said.
“For vibrant healthy people, this is absolutely important,” Caccia said. “We are what we eat and we are what we can digest.”
In a process known as “seed-saving,” some farmers save their seeds and replant some of them the following season. Through 100 years of seed saving, the best seeds are saved and replanted. These seeds have evolved and been modified naturally to have a certain amount of nutrients. Proponents of organic farming claim that the use of herbicides or pesticides ruins the soil, so the plants cannot make up vital nutrients, which are spawned from microorganisms. The microorganisms that can keep us healthy get killed off by chemicals, they say.
In Idaho, organic farming methods are gaining popularity among farmers, and people are taking notice, Caccia said.
“We’re so lucky to have the farmers market and to be in central Idaho,” he said. “We have some of the most fertile soil in the nation. There are great minerals and a great climate season. We live near one of the most fertile areas in the world.”
The popularity of the Wood River Farmers Market has increased over the past few years. The Ketchum market grew by about 10 percent last year, Thea said. People are being drawn to the convivial atmosphere and the health benefits that local foods bring, she said.
With new diets popping up every year that promote eating fresh fruit and vegetables, like the Paleo Diet, consumers are being educated and are making healthier choices, Thea said. Free-range meats, hormone-free dairy products and local produce are in greater demand.
“There is a big demand now from the customer,” Thea said. “You go to the grocery store and there are more organic aisles. I wish people could understand that and prioritize it.”
Farmers markets are not just thriving in the Wood River Valley, but are also popping up throughout Idaho. Salmon, Challis, Moscow and Pocatello all have a legitimate farmers market. The farmers market in Boise has grown so steadily over the past couple of years that it split into two different markets. Thea said part of the problem was the presence of too many arts-and-crafts vendors at the original market.
In order to prevent any split between markets here in Blaine County, Thea said the Wood River Farmers Market has a policy that no more than 20 percent of non-food vendors are allowed.
The biggest sellers are products that are in season, Thea said. Early in the season, consumers will be treated with fresh greens (lettuce, kale and cabbage). By mid-July, a diverse array of fruits and vegetables will be offered.
Where to go
The Wood River Farmers’ Market sets up shop on Fourth Street in downtown Ketchum on Tuesday afternoons from 2-6 p.m., starting June 11. The market will be on Main Street in central Hailey from 2-6 p.m. on Thursdays, starting June 13.