The official start of summer is a few days away. With temperatures in the low 60s, Saturday felt more like a blustery April day. Early produce consisted mostly of peas and varieties of lettuce.
None of that prevented hundreds from enjoying the sensory delights of the first Downtown Farmers Market of the season in Salt Lake City. The market’s sunny vibe was back for another year, as a wide mix of folks strolled Pioneer Park to look, buy and sample.
In fact, it seemed as if everyone and their dogs were wandering around the park tasting food, examining art and purchasing everything from Southern sweet tea to elk bones for dogs to fancy processed meats.
"It’s a great opening day," said Kim Angeli Selin, market manager for Downtown Alliance, which sponsors the event every Saturday — 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. — from now until October. "It’s very exciting and happy for us. The weather is comfortable. It’s nice and cool."
Similar markets have also officially begun their 2014 season at other venues in Salt Lake City as well as in Park City, Murray and Provo.
Rules governing vendors at the Downtown Farmers Market require that they grow their fruit, vegetables and plants within 250 miles of Salt Lake City. Artists must be Utah-based and create their products by hand.
Selin said most participating growers are small farmers who live along the Wasatch Front. When watermelons ripen, Green River will be represented among the 120 growers with wares on display. Selin said growers from Idaho and Wyoming, including one from the Cowboy State who grows tomatoes indoors, also participate.
The market manager predicts that a good Utah cherry crop will mean fruit shows up as early as next week, along with strawberries, carrots and beans. Those hankering for sweet corn will need to wait at least until the middle of July. Peaches and pumpkins appear later in the summer.
Randy Hed, of Blue Spring Farm in Bothwell, said this is his 11th year at the market and he seemed delighted to be back.
"We get a lot of people who come and visit us each week," he said.
Darby Gates, owner of Twice Life Wood, which recycles old Salt Lake-area wood into art products, was a new vendor at the market on Saturday.
"It’s pretty good," she said of business. "I’ve made two sales already. This is our debut and I’ve committed to the rest of the year. I wish it were a little warmer."
Craig Christensen, of Cottonwood Heights, and his family were selling a few early greens at a small booth. He said he grows his heirloom plants from seeds passed from generation to generation, including some dating back to the 1500s.
Scents of cinnamon almonds, smoked meats and fresh green plants mixed with sweet-smelling soaps, oils and lotions to create a sensory treat in the downtown park. Street musicians playing guitars, harps and violins filled the air with music. Kids in strollers joined older folks using walkers along the crowded paths.
Saturday’s market opener caught the eye of several non-Salt Lake City natives.
Joy Lear, who hails from Charleston, S.C., didn’t think anyone in Salt Lake could make real Southern sweet tea. But a tea vendor at the market gave her a cup to try.
"It was definitely Southern," Lear said. "I was impressed."
Sue Perna, who recently moved to Salt Lake City from Illinois, enjoyed the artists. She noted the wide variety and range of prices.
Cathleen Weeks, another first-time market attendee, recently moved from Virginia to Layton and heard about the event from a friend.
"My boys like to try new things," Weeks said. "They are out sampling things with their dad. I like it. I didn’t come for the shopping. It was more for the experience."
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