5 Utah farmers share how best to enjoy goods they sell at Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market

Get some ideas on how to use their produce or meat in your own kitchen.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Joaquim Hailer picks fresh turnips at Fine Tilth Farm in Draper on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

The Downtown Farmers Market offers fresh, locally grown produce in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park each summer, but the farmers who supply it work year-round to grow and perfect their goods.

The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with five of these farmers about the work that goes into cultivating their produce or meat, which will be available for the season’s first market this Saturday, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., then every Saturday that follows through Oct. 21.

Each farmer also shared their favorite way to prepare and share their items — from eating them raw to baking them down into garlicky goodness.

Fine Tilth Farm — Draper

The meticulously plotted vegetable beds behind Joaquim Hailer’s Draper home started out as “chest-high weeds” and invasive Russian olive trees, “which are a beast to get rid of.”

But the farmer behind the organic Fine Tilth Farm spent a year clearing it all out, and by 2019, he was selling produce at the Wheeler Sunday Market, then the Downtown Farmers Market, “and it’s just been growing,” he said.

Since he’s cultivating only 1 acre, Hailer said he focuses mainly on “fast crops” such as salad greens and baby root vegetables, “usually stuff that’s in and out of the space in 30 or 40 days.”

“That way, in each bed, I can get three or four crops every season,” he continued.

Hailer grows vegetables such as radishes, kohlrabi, carrots and beets, and turnips that are crunchy, sweet and refreshing. He also grows plant starts including peppers and tomatoes, and cultivates tomatoes in “high tunnel” greenhouses, gently training the plants to grow up strings connected to the ceiling.

One way to eat a turnip from Fine Tilth Farm: Rinse it off, then eat it raw, Hailer suggested. He does himself after plucking them from fresh the ground.

Home Grown Greens — Corrine

(Jessica Walker) Jessica and James Walker are shown in front of a wall of lettuce at their farm, Home Grown Greens, in Corinne.

James and Jessica Walker of Home Grown Greens both come from agricultural backgrounds, but they learned that traditional farming wasn’t for them. “I tried to buy 80 acres and it didn’t work out,” James said.

Instead, they started a vertical hydroponic operation in Corrine, in Box Elder County, growing lettuce year-round in a shipping container, which has the capacity to grow 8,000 plants at one time.

It takes about eight weeks to grow their lettuce from seed to harvest, James said. The lettuce starts out in small soil plugs in a nursery area, then they’re transplanted into vertical panels with a drip irrigation system.

There, they grow with the help of nutrient-infused water, which is recaptured and returned to the main water tank. In all, the Walkers use only about 5 gallons of water a day to grow their lettuce, according to their website.

The result is tender, sweet lettuce that doesn’t get bitter from growing outside in the hot sun. At the Downtown Farmers Market, the Walkers sell cut lettuce (which lasts for a week to two weeks) and “living lettuce” with a little root ball and soil plug still attached, which lasts for three to four weeks in the fridge.

One way to eat lettuce from Home Grown Greens: Jessica Walker suggests creating a lettuce blend with whichever varieties are in season, then making a “great big salad” by adding purple onion, basil, olives, croutons and Italian dressing. “That’s our favorite salad,” James Walker said.

First Frost Farm — Nibley

(Bill Masslich) An heirloom hard-neck garlic called Paradise Purple is pictured at First Frost Farm in Nibley, Utah, in this undated photo.

If the only garlic you’ve ever seen is the white stuff at the grocery store, you need to stop by First Frost Farm’s stand at the Downtown Farmers Market to see a head of Paradise Purple once they’re ready in July.

The heirloom variety of garlic is striped with varying shades of lavender, violet and plum and has extra-large cloves that are “just a lot of fun if you’re a cook,” said farmer Bill Masslich.

First Frost Farm does grow utilitarian “soft-neck” garlic that they sometimes sell to supermarkets. But what Masslich; his wife, Penny Trinca; and his partner, Ryan Moore, “take pride in” are the more unusual “hard-neck” varieties, he said.

Masslich has been farming at his certified organic farm in Nibley, in Cache County, for more than 20 years.

Garlic is his farm’s specialty, but they also grow lettuce, carrots, beets and more. On about 2 acres, they’ve cultivated 23 varieties of garlic, and that’s primarily what they sell at the Downtown Farmers Market.

One way to eat garlic from First Frost Farm: Take a head and cut the very top off so the cloves are just showing, Masslich suggested, then place the garlic head in a “cup” made with aluminum foil, drizzle it with with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Close the top of the “cup” around the garlic, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. The cloves get soft and “kind of sweet,” ready to spread on a fresh baguette, he said.

Old Home Place — Vernal

(Kayla Sharp) Cows graze at the Old Home Place on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

Longtime market vendor Old Home Place is a “grass-based” farm in Vernal, which means all the animals are raised in a pasture, although some animals get grain and some don’t.

Letting all the animals wander afield “makes for more nutritious poultry, more nutritious pork, better-for-you eggs, and better-for-you beef, lamb and llama,” said farmer Dale Batty.

Yep, llama. Batty said it’s “fun” to watch people at the market as they walk past his sign, then realize what they’ve seen and do a double take. “They almost got whiplash turning around,” he said.

At this year’s summer market, “we’ll have something of almost everything,” Batty said, including beef, lamb, llama, pork, chicken and fresh eggs. Although turkeys typically aren’t available until Thanksgiving time, Old Home Place will also have ground turkey at the market, he said.

One way to enjoy meat from Old Home Place: “Grill a good pork chop, grill a steak, grill a turkey, grill a chicken, low heat on the opposite side, can’t really go wrong,” said Batty’s daughter Kayla Sharp.

Intermountain Gourmet — Ogden

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Adam Wong grows mushrooms at Intermountain Gourmet, in Ogden, Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

If the only mushrooms you’ve eaten can be found on a slice of pizza, broaden your horizons by stopping by Intermountain Gourmet’s booth at the farmers market.

There, you’ll find colorful, strangely shaped mushrooms grown in humid darkness at Adam Wong’s operation in Ogden, such as blue oyster, lion’s mane, shitake, golden oyster, chestnut mushrooms and more.

Wong has been selling at the market for seven years, ever since he started his mushroom enterprise, and he says talking to people at his booth is a good opportunity to educate people about diverse fungi.

His mushrooms are grown in nutrient-rich bags of moist sawdust that fill up with white fungal threads called mycelium. The bag is then cut open, and the mushrooms sprout from those filaments. Wong said he likes to explain it by saying the mycelium is like an underground apple tree, and the mushrooms are the apples.

At the farmers market, he plans to sell a few different colors of oysters and chestnuts, as well as summer-loving varieties such as pink oyster and wood ear mushrooms. And he grows shitake year-round.

In addition to the farmers market, you can find Intermountain Gourmet mushrooms at any Harmons grocery store.

A few ways to enjoy mushrooms from Intermountain Gourmet: “Anything you would do with a button mushroom, a common store mushroom, you can do with an oyster,” Wong said. He likes to eat them sauteed with onions and eaten alongside a steak, as well as on a burger or in cream of mushroom soup. He also likes to eat shitakes in stir-fries, he said, or on grilled kebabs.

Wong also said you can roast any mushroom on a sheet pan in the oven. Just pull the mushrooms apart, oil and season them however you want, then roast them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, depending on the mushroom. “Just watch it till it gets a little crisp up on it,” he said. “And yeah, it’s an awesome flavor.”

Pro-tip for the market:

When you head to the farmers market, don’t forget to strike up a conversation with the person you’re buying goods from.

The farmers who spoke with The Tribune were eager to talk about their work. You’ll probably learn something new, which could make that locally grown food taste even better.

A list of at least 11 other farmers markets around the Wasatch Front this summer — from Provo to Ogden — can be found here.