By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Farmers Market co-manager
In 2008, the Sustainability Office and several campus partners came to a conclusion: The university needed better access to healthy and local food options. To meet this need, the partners launched the University of Utah Farmers Market. Organizers sent invitations to students, administrators and even residents of neighborhoods adjacent to campus, explaining their goal to “bring fresh, local food to the campus in order to help build healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.”
Ten seasons later, the popular market excels at connecting students, faculty and staff with local farmers and food purveyors. But even more so, the market has become a space for community, where students hang out and interact with small business owners from the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. This year’s market kicks off at Tanner Plaza, west of the Union, on Thursday, Aug. 24, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and takes place every Thursday through Oct. 5.
I first participated in the Farmers Market in 2013, where I witnessed firsthand the powerful link between food and community. The market is a staple of the fall semester, and campus members come back year after year to frequent their favorite stalls. It can look like seeing old friends, or in some cases, even like seeing family. Searching through the records of the past 10 seasons, I learned that some vendors, such as Tagge’s Famous Fruit & Veggie Farms and Jensen Farms, have been part of the market since the very beginning. Perennial favorites Tamales Tita joined the market in 2012. Other early vendors are now better known for their brick-and-mortar stores, such as Tulie Bakery and Skewered Thai. And newer vendors are branching out beyond traditional farmers markets — you can grab a Bubble & Brown pastry at Three Pines Coffee downtown or get some Salsa Del Diablo on your sandwich at The Bagel Project. For this fall’s market, we have accepted 25 vendors — some new and some returning.
In celebration of the 10th season, we are broadening our community focus by inviting more nonprofit organizations and campus partners to join the market to better highlight local opportunities and resources. Groups including the Green Urban Lunchbox and Enterprise CarShare will be part of the market, and campus entities including (but not limited to) Student Success Advocates, Student Equity & Diversity and Career Services will be in attendance.
We’re also keeping our original mission to increase access at the forefront of our market. The Double Your Dollars program will return for its fifth season, thanks to support from University of Utah Health. Double Your Dollars provides students with a $1-to-$1 match for students and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase produce/food items at the market. Participants purchase tokens from the Market Manager’s Booth and can spend those tokens on grocery-like food items, including (but not limited to) fruits, vegetables, honey, salsa and baked goods. More than 400 students took advantage of the program last year.
When I took over management of the University of Utah Farmers Market in 2015, I was reminded of the service the market provides the campus community. I watched consumers interact with producers, which is so often lost in our faceless food system. I listened to producers describe where ingredients are grown, which is regularly hidden by lists of indecipherable ingredients. The market is a place to eat local, real food, and just as important, a place to gather. See you Aug. 24.