A sushi chef from Seattle moves to Provo to take a break and cooks chicken satay in the open air. A man taught by his father in Austria to bake quality breads immigrates to Utah and sells about a dozen different types of loaves. A woman allergic to the chemical used to treat clothing dyes uses natural sources to dye cotton and silk. In the eight years since the Provo Farmer’s Market first started offering local food and crafts to Utahans it has become an enclave for those who care about the socio-economic impact of their purchases. The market is a home for handmade or homegrown business surrounded by chain stores and a business community that does its best to detract from the local movement.
The produce available at the market will change as different crops mature to harvest. At press time, lettuce, radishes, and rhubarb were easy to find at the market, as well as seedlings and flowers for at-home growers. Also available are free-range eggs for $3 a dozen, a price that even chain stores can hardly compete with when selling organic eggs. There are not currently any free-range grass-fed meats available, but by mid-summer market organizers hope there will be a beef vendor.
This year the market has an interesting and diverse troupe of vendors, only a fraction of which are represented in this article. Crafts range from gift baskets to fabric books to lingerie.
Kristen Curley of Prickly Rock Honey sells honey from hives around the state. Samples and jars of various sizes are available of honey from across Utah, including Utah Valley, Provo Canyon and Kamas.
“The honey we produce is so much better for you than the honey you can buy in the stores that is commercially produced,” Curley said. Prickly Rock’s honey is raw, meaning it has not been heated above 110 degrees. It isn’t cut with corn or rice syrup like most brands of honey from grocery stores.
Prickly Rock Honey is a great example of the staggering price difference between organic local and processed store-bought produce. Though the $4-7 spent on a five-ounce jar can get you a 15-ounce jar of honey at Wal-Mart, a little research shows that the mass-produced product may not be worth the price. By buying from a local vendor, consumers not only know exactly where the product is coming from, but where their money is going.
Three Penny Market, another vendor, specializes in making things out of reclaimed or recycled materials. Old t-shirts are cut into strips and then knitted into bags or hats, wool sweaters are felted and made into bags, and vinyl records are heated and made into bowls. The three women who run the booth seem to know what customers would like to buy even before they do, making recommendations, telling stories and illuminating the history of their wares.
This year the market is almost flooded with jewelry and accessories. According to Louise Jorgensen, market president, jewelry vendors’ applications are the most common refusals.
One of the most interesting accessory vendors is Catsie Wolfe, who sells handmade chain mail jewelry and trinkets.
“My items are better than mass-produced items because they are unique and original without being strange-looking,” Wolfe said. “I don’t believe there is a way to do mass-produced chain mail at this point, and I have found very few people who know how to make it by hand.”
Customers may not expect to see underwear nestled between the produce booths at the market, but this is a place where expectations are often broken. Junko Tayeka sells handmade bras for women that usually can’t find fitting bras outside of the children’s department. After years of not being dissatisfied with the bras available for small-chested women, Tayeka decided “If I can’t find it, I will make it.” This sentiment, a common impetus for entrepreneurship, adds another layer of quality to the market; vendors try to fill gaps they see in Utah Valley’s business community.
The market is invested in zero-waste shopping, but this year it has not been made the highest priority. Most vendors have plastic bags available for customers, and none of the food producers offering jars of food had a bulk supply readily available for customers to fill their own containers with. Customers are, however, often encouraged to reuse jars. The labels of each of Spread the Love’s savory jelly jars tell customers, “This is a really cool jar. You should definitely reuse it!”
These vendors are people whose lives are directly impacted when those who can afford not to still decide to shop at chain stores.
“We hope that people will support local products and keep local businesses alive,” Curley, the honey vendor, said. “I try and support local businesses first before going elsewhere if possible.”
Michele Howarth of Quiet Mischief and Company takes a harder stance.
“Mostly, it comes down to the public being uneducated about buying handmade,” she said. Howarth makes bracelets by knotting embroidery floss, and many customers are reminded of similar but less complex bracelets they were taught to make as children. “The $20 price tag means I am getting paid about $4 an hour. And that’s without factoring in time and money I spend just to have a spot at market. … Long story short: more people would buy handmade if they knew the worth of it.”
The safety of the produce at the market is guaranteed by the Department of Agriculture and Food. According to the market’s policies, agriculture vendors must comply to the Department’s Farmer’s Market Guidelines. Prepared food vendors must have a certificate from the Utah County Health Department.
“[Vendors] aren’t allowed to be at the market if they don’t have their certificates,” said Jorgensen. In addition, the Health Department inspects the market once or twice each month.
Craft items don’t have a national standard to comply to, but their safety is guaranteed by the face-to-face manner of the farmer’s market. Customers can ask questions directly to those who made the product, and vendors take enough pride in their work to not make a low-quality product. Many vendors are signed up to sell at the market each week all summer so consumers know they won’t skip town. Most of them also supply an e-mail address or phone number with each purchase in case customers have questions or concerns.
“We say that all our products are ‘made with love,’ and they truly are designed with the safety of the consumer in mind along with the overall style and purpose,” said vendor Jessica Mikel of Yours Truly Dear. Mikel and her business partner Darci Gardner sell baby items and crocheted headbands at the market.
Though the produce at the market is grown locally, the majority of the crafts vendors interviewed don’t make it a priority to use locally-made materials to make their wares.
“We can’t, really,” said Howarth. Howarth and her sister use duct tape, embroidery floss, ribbon, and beads to make ties and bracelets, materials not readily available from a trusted local producer.
Because of the market’s growing size and recent evolution into a private entity, they have begun being charged by Provo city for use of Pioneer Park. This extra expense was passed on to the vendors, who have to pay the market to sell there.
Though individual vendors are generally for-profit enterprises, the market itself is a charity, giving profits to Franklin Elementary School. According to Marlin Palmer, principal at Franklin, last year the market ¬– along with the Franklin Neighborhood Housing Service – were able to contribute $7,665 to the school. The amount was significantly more than Palmer expected.
Provo’s Farmers Market will be held each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pioneer Park, 500 West Center Street, until October 30.