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Running a farmers market means paying attention to the whims of nature — and Alison Einerson, who’s in charge of Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market, has done that and then some in the last two years.
“I’m the only farmers market manager that’s had markets shut down by three natural disasters — an earthquake, a global pandemic, and an inland hurricane,” said Einerson, executive director of Urban Food Connections of Utah, the nonprofit arm of the Downtown Alliance that oversees the market. “So I’m pretty flexible now.”
That flexibility will serve Einerson well in what’s promising to be a busy 2022 season for the Downtown Farmers Market.
Not only will the market return to its full pre-pandemic capacity when it opens in Pioneer Park on June 4, but Urban Food Connections also will take over operations of the Liberty Park Farmers Market from the Liberty Wells Community Council, which is set to open on June 16 and run on Thursday evenings through the summer.
Not that Einerson is idle until June — she’s now managing UFC’s indoor Winter Market, which runs through April 23 at The Gateway.
“We now do 21 markets in the summer and 22 markets in the winter, if you can believe that,” she said. “We’re operational almost every week — we take off pretty much just the end of April and the beginning of May. That’s when we do all of the hard work, and the farmers plant the fields. So, no vacations!”
Local food, year round
The Winter Market, now in its ninth season, was forced to move from its home in the Rio Grande Depot after the building was damaged in the earthquake of 2021. It’s now in The Gateway, which Einerson said was “a blessing in disguise,” because there’s room to space booths far apart for social distancing.
The Gateway space — north of the Olympic Legacy Plaza — hosts about 55 to 60 vendors each week, including Intermountain Gourmet Mushrooms, Hive Mind Apiary, Beehive Cheese, 44 Magnum Beef, and Eats! vegan bakery.
“We have a lot of new growers, including three new hydroponic growers, so you’ll see a lot more fresh greens, a lot more kale, a lot more herbs,” Einerson said.” We’ve got hydroponic tomatoes, we’ve got lots of really beautiful lettuce. And then a lot of the staples that winter over, like potatoes and carrots and onions and shallots and all of that good stuff. … And apples. We’ll have apples until mid-March.”
Like the summer market, the Winter Market sticks with locally grown fruits and vegetables, locally raised meat and eggs, and breads, sauces, chocolates, cheeses and condiments made by local purveyors.
A few weeks ago, though, there was a rare sighting of oranges. “That is the one exception to our rule of a 250-mile radius from Salt Lake City,” Einerson said. “I have a vendor who drives to California, hand-picks in organic orchards, and drives it back. And that’s why he gets to do that, because it’s not commercial. It makes people happy.”
Returning to pre-pandemic size
The Downtown Alliance started its farmers market in Pioneer Park in 1992. The market was seen as a way to reclaim the 10-acre downtown park from its reputation as a regular spot for the buying, selling and use of illegal drugs. The plan worked, and the market is now in its 31st season — and more of an end in itself.
Einerson began working for Downtown Alliance in 2012 under the umbrella of Urban Food Connections. She helped launch the Winter Market, then guided both events through the pandemic. This season will be a return to normal, she said.
“We’re turning back to full operations, which we haven’t done since 2019. We’ll have the full food fairway, 300 booths. The art and craft market gets to go back normal. It was half the size it’s been in normal years. So it’s going to feel like the old market.”
In 2023, it’s possible that it will feel like a new market if proposed improvements to Pioneer Park go through. Last week, the Salt Lake City Council heard plans for a major facelift for the park, including tree plantings, lighting, new sidewalks, a dog park, a performance pavilion, a new basketball court, and six pickleball courts. The proposal includes some changes that may affect the market as well, though things are still in motion, and only a fraction of the needed $20 million has been raised.
Einerson emphasized that the timeline is dependent on that funding, and that UFC has been working closely with the Parks Department.
“We did a lot of walkthroughs with them about how many booths we put in the park, how many vendors are there. How they enter and exit the park, how they load in,” she said. “And none of that means anything to the patron experience, but it means everything to our operational experience. I think no matter what happens, it’s going to look a little bit different.”
She added the park has gone through a number of transitions, including removal of the central bathrooms, the installation of a large multipurpose field, and then hurricane-force winds that destroyed trees and changed the whole look and feel of the park. Through it all, she said, they adapted, including a shift to using buskers when they lost use of a central music stage.
Summer evenings in Liberty Park
The council returned to UFC in late 2021, Einerson said, “and [they] said they just weren’t able to sponsor the market anymore, and do you guys want to take it over? That’s the model we’ve looked at, running multiple markets in multiple locations. A lot of other cities have done that. So we said, ‘Yes, we’ll take it.’”
The market is now in its fifth year, and will continue to operate on the east side of the park (680 E. 1040 South, Salt Lake City), but won’t be the Liberty Market of the past, or another version of the downtown market.
“You won’t see 300 vendors and dogs and strollers,” Einerson said. Instead, it will be 60 curated vendors, including lots of produce, grass-fed meat, eggs, bread from local bakeries, plus jams and spreads and salsas. Some Liberty vendors will return, alongside regulars from the Winter and Downtown markets.
“It will be very stoppable, very accessible,” Einerson said. “It’s easy to park and easy to walk. iI’s comfortable. There’s plenty of shade.”
UFC also moved it from Friday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to dusk, both to put a buffer between the Liberty Park market and the Pioneer Park market — so farmers could work both markets, and to avoid conflicts with people’s going-out schedules.
“It’s a little bit more in line with what people are thinking in terms of shopping, rather than going out on your rock ‘n’ roll Friday to the farmers market,” Einerson said with a laugh. UFC is looking at adding roaming musicians, a smaller version of the music programming at Pioneer Park.
Einerson said Liberty will be a great alternative for people who get too stressed by the tough parking and huge crowds at the downtown market, but ultimately, “we have a real opportunity with a market like Liberty, that’s based in a really great historic residential neighborhood, to serve the grocery needs of the community.”
Gateway Olympic Legacy Plaza, 10 N. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City, Saturdays, 10 a.m.–2 p.m., through April 23.
Downtown Farmer’s Market/Art & Craft Market
Pioneer Park, 350 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City, Saturdays, 8 a.m.—2 p.m., June 4 to October 22.
Liberty Park Market
East side of Liberty Park, 680 E. 1040 South, Salt Lake City, Thursdays, 4 p.m.-twilight, June 16–September 29. (Park entrances for vehicles: 600 East and 1300 South, heading north, with parking along the park’s east side; and 600 East and 900 South, heading south, with parking along the park’s west side.)