Workers from Chad's produce spread out among shoppers packing the Downtown Farmers Market to offer samples of their local lemon spinach, promising that it's not boring. Ryan and Shannon Nielson tried some.
"We've had it before, but forgot how good it was," Ryan said. Nearby, a street saxophonist played "Someone to Watch Over Me." Shoppers milling nearby ranged from families with children to young men with long ponytails and seniors pushing walkers. Scores walked dogs or pulled wagons or coolers full of purchased food.
"Now it feels like summer," Shannon said, as the market opened its 21st season Saturday at Pioneer Park. "My parents used to bring me. So it's a tradition. We love to buy here what we don't grow in our own garden," she said, tucking spinach she bought into a bag with eggs and strawberries.
It's more than a market Â even though asparagus, lettuce, strawberries and garden plants were selling briskly. It's sort of a giant weekly block party with entertainment, art, crafts and sometimes unusual local products ranging from Middle Eastern garlic spreads to massages in the park and body art "guaranteed to last at least a week."
"It a whole ambiance," said Nick Como, communications director for the market. "We have produce and baked goods, but also music and one end of the park that is dedicated to art and artists. It's an experience you don't get in a supermarket."
The Downtown Alliance, which operates the market, anticipated attendance of nearly 10,000 on Saturday. The market runs every Saturday through mid-October, adding an extra hour this year Â now from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.Â to better handle crowds.
But many people show up before the official opening. Janet Southam and Michael Klein Â with their dog, Barney Â said they had spent $30 each before 8 a.m.
"But tell everyone else to come at 11 a.m.," Klein said.
"We like to get first shot, especially at the baked goods," Southam added, insisting on sharing a cheese stick she bought from Pierre's bakery tent. "We come every Saturday and have for years. We love it." They are on a first-name basis with many of the vendors.
Across the way, Bryan Leffler, of Bountiful, was working to persuade his young children to try samples from the Beehive Cheese Co.
"I like to instill a sense of community," Leffler said, explaining why he brings his family to the market. "Sometimes our area is not as diverse. But coming here, they get to see a lot of different people and get to eat a lot of different kinds of food. And it's fun."
Some don't shop just for humans. Jennie and John Frame were picking out a meat treat for their English bulldog, named Gracie, from the Pet Chef tent. "We haven't bought anything for ourselves yet," John said as Gracie munched a treat. Jennie added, "It shows where our priorities are."
David Besachio, of North Salt Lake, was pulling a large ice chest on wheels as he, his wife and three children filled it with food they bought. "We always go to Pierre's or Ruby Snap for baked goods, and then we shop around for whatever looks good and plan our meals accordingly. It changes every week depending on what is in season."
Scott Burbank was pushing a walker and filling a basket with produce. "I've been coming here eight years," he said. "I just bought some 'Wyomatoes.' They are tomatoes grown in Wyoming, but they are good and love to see them every year."
Como, the communications director, said the market has been an incubator for a lot of businesses. "Like Rico's over there started coming here 20 years ago, and now he employs 100 people and has a multimillion-dollar business. Ruby Snap started selling cookies here, but then Harmons and Whole Foods discovered them and started picking up their products to sell."
He added, "The market is a great place to see where food comes from and to meet with people who produce it. Also, buying locally helps keep money in the local economy and help local businesses."
A Tuesday market will be added beginning Aug. 6 at 4 p.m. at Pioneer Park. Como said the market also hopes soon to become a year-round event to help local businesses.
P The Downtown Farmers Market runs through mid-October:
When • Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Tuesday market coming in August
Where • Pioneer Park, 300 W. 300 South
Info • slcfarmersmarket.org