Farmers Market Harvests Success

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Louie Givens peers into one of the catch-all bins at Saturday’s Farmers Market. The last event of the season takes place Oct. 9 at Sawmill Crossing.

The Payson Farmers Market is finishing a successful second season during which it more than doubled in size, expanded its sales and began to cement itself as a Saturday tradition in Rim Country.

“It’s become a real Saturday morning destination,” said co-organizer John Roethlein.

The market will close for the season on Oct. 9 — not Oct. 16 as previously advertised — because produce is running out as the growing season ends.

“It went really well,” said co-organizer Lorian Roethlein. This year, the market was located in the Sawmill Crossing Shopping Center parking lot at the busy corner of Main Street and the Beeline Highway. The new location was more visible and offered more space than the previous spot.

More vendors flooded into the larger area and the market’s reputation as one of the best in the state kept vendors coming back, organizers said.

Last year, vendors generated $43,000 $43,000 in sales during an abbreviated first season. This year, Lorian said the market’s vendors made $136,000 and the market still had two weeks left in the season. She projected that this year’s sales will have more than tripled from last year’s.

Anywhere from 800 to 1,000 people visit the weekly market, and the Roethleins said locals comprise most of the traffic, although many people drive up from the Valley just to attend.

Weekly live music returned this year alongside new features like tables for rotating Rim Country artists and service organizations looking to raise funds or increase visibility.

The market also continued to incubate new local businesses. For example, one man started helping his wife sell burritos after losing his job at Foxworth-Galbraith, said the Roethleins.

One Gisela man, along with his 89-year-old mother, sold fruit they collected from the neighborhood’s trees.

The fruit has historically fallen on the ground and rotted, and now the mom and son attend three or four farmers markets selling the goods.

“His neighbors are thrilled at having clean yards,” said John.

The 89-year-old fruit seller marks the market’s oldest vendor, while the youngest is a 6-year-old who sells lemonade with an 8-year-old companion. “They’ve been taught how to run the thing like a business,” said John.

Last year’s success allowed the market to attract bigger names like Schnepf Farms and Queen Creek Olive Mill this year.

“Last year we had to find everybody. This year, they called us,” said John.

The community-friendly nature of the market — it’s not a cutthroat operation designed to make as much money as possible — has created a good reputation among vendors.

Lorian said they watch the mix of vendors to maintain variety. They’ll make sure there aren’t three people selling bread, for instance, so the vendors can make money.

Also, some farmers markets will kick a vendor out if they aren’t selling enough.

“We don’t do that,” said John. The Roethleins also give people the same table each week so that customers know where to find their favorite places. Some farmers markets allot tables on a first-come, first-served basis, so both vendors and customers are scrambling to find the table.

All told, nearly 40 vendors typically show up to the market selling fruit, vegetables, lotions, honey, humus, bread, sweets, salsa and chocolate.

“We’re probably not getting any bigger,” said Lorian. “For the size of our community, it’s the perfect size.”

She said the couple visited a larger market in Oregon while on vacation and saw that Payson’s market offers most of the same goods. The only thing Payson is missing is nut butters, said Lorian.

Some of Payson’s vendors also sell to places like Whole Foods. “It’s cool to have that quality,” delivered to Payson’s doorstep, said John.

Next year’s market will feature most of the same vendors at the same location. However, visitors next year can buy honey combs and bee pollen, in addition to honey.

The beekeeper even comes to the market in his bee suit and teaches children about the process of making honey.

Besides being a family event, people often bring their pets. Many vendors put out water dishes for the many dogs walking around. People have walked around as their pet birds perch on their shoulders, and two llamas came the other week.

Also to be continued next year, the market’s farmers gained certification through the Women, Infant and Children program.

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