As the Valley of the Sun begins to cool off from the summer heat, attendance at the Ahwatukee Farmers' Market is on the way up.

That's what vendors like Zack Funke, who brings artisan varieties of honey to the market, say they're beginning to notice.

"As the temperature keeps going down, sales are getting better," Funke said Sunday morning, Oct. 3.

This October marks the beginning of the market's fifth season, said Samantha Halvorson, a market coordinator with the Arizona Community Farmers' Market Group, which oversees eight such markets across the Valley. The Ahwatukee Foothills market, each Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. under a warren of white tents erected in a parking lot just west of 48th Street on the north side of Warner Road, is one of the group's larger events, she said.

It attracts several hundred people each week, and there's a waiting list for vendors who hope to get a spot, Halvorson said.

"I'm running out of space," she said. "It has gotten pretty competitive. We go with the best."

The products generally are considered organic and most are produced within Arizona. It's a place where local businesses can get their start, make some sales and establish new contacts.

The idea, Halvorson said, is to support local growers.

"There's a health aspect and an environmental aspect," she said. "We're getting more and more growers. Three years ago I couldn't find a grass-fed beef farmer to come to the market, and now we have three."

Tim Kenney, sales manager for the Red Mountain Cattle Company, began selling meat from a freezer at the market in February. The family-owned, 43-acre farm in east Mesa raises cattle naturally, without resorting to steroids or antibiotics.

Kenny said he's been getting a lot of families and repeat customers at the market.

"Rain or shine this is a very good place," he said. "This one is very strong. It's probably one of the top two I attend."

Funke, who started his artisan honey company, The Health Foodie, about a year ago, said sales have been increasing since he began selling at the farmers market a few months back.

"I try to analyze what foods best promote my health and the planet's health," he said. "Honey was just one of the foods I kept coming across from a health standpoint and a cooking standpoint. We went around finding the highest quality and most sustainable in the Southwest."

Bethany Kurz, who has a brand new organic baby food company called Little Butter Bean, in addition to having a brand new baby, credited Halvorson with helping her get her business off the ground.

"I have a 9-month-old, so that's how I got started," Kurz said. "My mom and I make all the food in a certified kitchen. This is the market I had been coming to as a shopper."

Many of the market's visitors are regulars. Shopper Virginia Corris said she's been visiting each week since it began. She has a regular herb vendor at the market.

"I do all of my vegetable shopping and I get some ideas for cooking," Corris said.

Alan and Marsha Smith said they have been attending for about three years.

"We come here probably every other weekend or so," Alan said. "The healthy grown organic stuff is really nice."

Kim Britton, with the Willcox-based Sunizona Family Farms, which grows organic vegetables, said the end of summer means attendance is picking up.

"We're down a little bit because of the heat, but I see today we're a little busier," she said last weekend.

Halvorson said the market used to close down for the summer, but has remained open during the hot months for the last two years, and has managed to bring in customers.

"I really think it's going to take off this fall," she said.

(1) comment

Iowa Grower

I am a local grower/producer visiting Phoenix from Iowa. I was very disappointed to see the local farmer's markets mostly controlled by this profit oriented group. In Iowa, if you don't grow it, you don't sell it! But here anything goes - people buy produce from wholesalers importing from California, Mexico, China, etc and undercut the local farmers working so hard to produce true local food. And the organizers get 10% of all sales! Absurd. Most of our farmer's markets are operated by a board who are only concerned about quality local food and supporting local growers. That should happen here before the credibility of the whole movement is washed away by the greedy.

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