On the opening day of the annual winter farmers market, fruit grower Kent Pyne was handing out slices of delicious Utah County apples and a bit of advice.
Kari Dunn’s lone apple tree had been loaded with a promising apple harvest in August until the bulk of the still-green fruit dropped all at once; she wondered if Pyne could tell her why.
His diagnosis: worms.
“When you get a worm hole in the apple, essentially it ripens up a lot quicker and they’ll just fall,” said Pyne, before offering up a few ideas for a fix.
Such queries are all in the day’s work for the vendors and growers who peddle their fruits, vegetables and other goods at the Rio Grande Winter Market, which opened for its fifth year on Saturday at the historic train depot in downtown Salt Lake City.
The bustling market feels like what it is: a community that sees value in buying fresh food from local sources and a place where growers and their loyal customers are friends.
This year, the market’s offerings — a cornucopia of produce, baked good, cheeses, meats and home goods from more than 65 vendors — will be available weekly for the first time.
Shopper Brandi Allen, an educator and yoga teacher, couldn’t be happier.
A regular at the winter market and it sister summer market at Pioneer Park, Allen’s Saturday shopping excursion saw her headed home with two bags full of purple potatoes, kale, carrots and eggs, and a box of apples and cider cradled in her arms.
“We are so excited that it’s open every week,” said Allen, who was shopping with a friend. “We used to have to stock up. Now we can get fresh food every single week.”
That’s exactly the kind of enthusiasm Alison Einerson, executive director of Urban Food Connections of Utah, hoped to hear. Einerson had long wanted to make the every-other-weekend market a weekly event but had been stymied by operating expenses and vendor participation concerns.
“You have to have the vendors come with you,” said Einerson. “I heard from a lot of them who didn’t want to come every week.”
Financial help from the state came through this year, allowing the market to afford rent on the depot building.
As for the vendors, she said: “They are all here. I think because it’s a huge economic help for them and because it’s really a community.”
Farmers market shoppers also didn’t disappoint.
“This is the busiest opening day we’ve ever had,” Einerson said.
She credits growing public interest in understanding the sources of food and associated health benefits with helping both markets boom.
The winter market, which will run through April 21, provided a great opportunity for farmers with cold-storage capabilities or whose ambitions have them planting in greenhouses, or hoop houses, to sell their wares all year, she said.
“I know how hard they work to grow food,” Einerson said. “This is not an easy life.”
Pyne, who grows tart cherries, apples and some peaches on a 35-acre Pyne Farms in Santaquin, was making it look pretty easy.
The family business, which planted its first trees back in 1906, was doing a brisk business Saturday, offering sample slices of their 13 apple varieties, while selling boxes of the fruit and cider that was pressed on site.
“Once people try local and they see how much better it is, they are sold,” said Pyne, who quit a job with a nonprofit a few years ago to take over the farm from his retiring dad, who wanted to make the part-time farm a full-time proposition.
“It was a really hard decision to leave my ‘corporate’ job, so to speak,” said Pyne who had his 11-year-old son working at his side Saturday. “But I’ve never been happier.”