The number of farmers markets in the United States has risen by more than 16 percent since 2009, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and evidence of that trend will bloom this weekend in a downtown Gilbert parking lot.
The Gilbert Farmers Market, a new venture by a local entrepreneur with input and support from town officials, will debut Saturday at Gilbert’s Valley Metro Park-and-Ride.
“So far we have 20 vendors, everything from honey products to healthy tamales,” says Jessa Koppenhofer, 27, the market’s organizer. “It’s kind of a soft opening, since we’re just getting started, but we’re hoping for anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people.”
An Apache Junction resident who grew up in Gilbert, Koppenhofer has worked for two years in her family’s specialty popcorn business, Bubba Stuff’s Popcorn Factory, producing flavors like banana split, chocolate orange, habanero cheddar and dill pickle.
“I’m a partner in my own family’s business, and that’s one of my major motivators, is just being there for those small, family-run operations. The farmers’ market isn’t a non-profit, but we are here for local family businesses that are trying to stay alive in this market. I want them to have a place in the East Valley where they can come year round to get in front of customers.”
She thinks the market is something the people of Gilbert and surrounding communities will appreciate, too.
“There really isn’t something like this on Saturdays on this side of town, and Gilbert welcomed us with open arms. The town hasn’t had a market since the ’90s, and they were looking to do something like this. We were looking for an open, earthy space in a community with agricultural roots, and Gilbert was the first place that came to mind.”
Beyond artisanal food purveyors, craft and gift vendors, and, eventually, fresh-produce farmers, the market will include live music and a host of recycling options. Customers can bring recyclables from home to pitch in the market’s recycle bins, fruit and veggie scraps for a community compost bin, and old cell phones, mp3 players and PDA’s for an electronics recycling project.
There are plans for a car show the first Saturday of every month and regular food-related special events, such as salsa challenges and pie-eating contests.
A “charity lane” will feature five to 10 non-profit booths each week, where visitors can learn about the groups’ causes, sign up to volunteer or donate. Saturday’s groups will include Autism Speaks, Friends for Life Animal Rescue and The Riparian Institute at Water Ranch.
“We have so many elements to this thing, it’s kind of a collage, and you can choose what parts you want to be a part of,” says Koppenhofer.
The market is still accepting small farmers, food and craft vendors and musicians. For information, visit its website at gilbertfarmersmarket.com.