Why Salt Lake City plans to launch a year-round market at the state Fairpark

The goal is to alleviate a food desert on the west side of the city and help foster small business.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Fairpark Public Market will open in 2021 at the Utah State FairPark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.

For people who live in Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood, running to the store for fresh fruits and vegetables can be a major outing as grocery stores are few and far between. That might change in May, when a new, year-round public market is scheduled to open at the Utah State Fairpark.

The market was endorsed by the Salt Lake City Council on Dec. 1. The council’s resolution says many areas on the west side of Salt Lake City — where the Fairpark is located at 155 N. 1000 West — are food deserts that would benefit from increased access to food and business opportunities. A food desert is an area with limited access to nutritional food, especially fruit and vegetables.

“[The market] will provide fresh, wholesome food to residents of this community on a regular, consistent basis,” said Utah State Fairpark Executive Director Larry Mullenax.

Mullenax said the market will also encourage arts and crafts and will give entrepreneurs an opportunity to flourish. He said the Fairpark plans to have resources for people who want to start businesses, including incubator kitchens and experts to provide business advice.

“Come down, look at some arts and crafts, look at some produce,” he said. “Maybe you have aspirations to take your homemade cookie recipe to market. We want to help you with that.”

Mullenax said market hours and days are still being finalized, but the current plan is to have it operate Thursday through Sunday. He said it might close mid-August to accommodate the 2021 Utah State Fair, but the goal is to ultimately have the market run year-round.

Alex Cragun, a food security advocate with Utahns Against Hunger, said in an email that projects like the proposed market will increase food access for residents in the Fairpark neighborhood, located south of Rose Park and north of Poplar Grove.

He said food insecurity for Utahns with children has nearly doubled from 8.4% to 19.4% since the start of the pandemic. Food insecurity rates are even higher for Black, Latino and Indigenous households.

“The Westpointe and Fairpark community that surrounds the park has a number of communities that live more than a half-mile from the nearest grocery store,” he said. “This area of the city continues to grow and develop in population and density, and food access continues to be an issue. This market will not only bring salience to a long-standing community institution, but it will bring access to ... regionally produced foods, thus increasing food access in the community and supporting Utah’s agricultural economy.”

Cragun said it will be important for the market to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps or SNAP benefits. And that is the plan.

Kristen Lavalett, executive director of Local First Utah, said markets like the new one at the Fairpark are good for helping create local businesses.

“Markets present an incredible opportunity for people who have a dream or vision but may not be able to work full time at that vision,” she said. “If there is a new market emerging, we would be ecstatic because of the potential for business incubation.”

The Fairpark market is a separate project from the public market that the Downtown Alliance and Urban Food Connections of Utah have been advocating for over the past decade. The Downtown Alliance and Urban Food Connections, which put on the Downtown Farmers Market, want to start a year-round market in the Rio Grande neighborhood.

Urban Food Connections Executive Director Alison Einerson said the two markets are “not related in any way.”

Amanda Greenwald, communications and outreach manager for Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency, said a 2019 study to see if a year-round market would have community support at the Utah State Fairpark had favorable results.

COVID-19 has cut business at the Fairpark. Mullenax said the venue normally hosts over 150 events a year, but has hosted only a few this year. This past summer, Utah State Fair organizers still held the event but took steps to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including canceling the livestock show because it attracts too many visitors and reducing the number of food vendors and the number of people allowed in the fair at one time.

Mullenax said he hopes the market will help the Fairpark make a speedy recovery.