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Power to the People’s Market

Since 2005, People’s Market has offered a diverse, welcoming venue for artisans, craftspeople, restaurateurs and farmers from professionals to neighborhood herb-growers.

And it all started with a community yard sale.

“The idea was to get people from the neighborhood together to build community and make a little money and clean out the clutter,” said Kyle LaMalfa, President of the People’s Market’s Board of Directors. “When it as over, we looked at each other and said, ‘That was great, but we should make it bigger and better and grow it somehow.’”

The market has truly taken root in the neighborhoods known as Rose Park and Glendale, and each year it has flowered more spectacularly. Today, it boasts not only the yard sale which made such a splash in 2004 (and which now opens the market), but a local authors’ day, a number of garden swaps and a roster of musicians. It even has its own catchy theme song.

“It’s been like triple digit growth since we started,” said LaMalfa. “The first year there was one vendor who basically had about a card table worth of herbs, and by the end of [2006’s market] there was about an average of five vendors a week, and then 15 a week the next year. The next year’s average was 40 a week, and last year we grew by 50 percent — about 62 vendors a week last year on average.” Some of these vendors come only once and some stay for the entire season — from June through October. Most are from Utah, with a majority hailing from the Salt Lake Valley’s West Side and a handful from the area bounded by Logan, Tooele, Park City and Utah County. However, a few have come from as far away as Montana and the South.

“We had a lapidary guy [an artist who works with stone] come from Louisiana for four weeks,” said LaMalfa. “That was pretty cool.”

“It’s a really dynamic and involving place,” he continued. “Some of the vendors are just getting off the ground. Also personality-wise, the folks at People’s Market are a little more eccentric and love to talk to people, and not just about their products. They’ve not yet learned the hard sell.”

It is also a diverse crowd. True to its name, said LaMalfa, People’s Market is a welcoming place to vendors and customers of all races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities, and many of them are members of Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

“It’s not a topic of conversation, but when someone brings a partner to a booth and are not shy about it, it’s pretty obvious,” he said. “People of diverse communities are comfortable to be themselves here.”

The idea of welcoming and helping diverse communities also played a large role in the creation of this market. Like the pivotal yard sale, for example, People’s Market grew out an impulse help the West Side’s residents (many of whom come from low income households) earn some extra money.

But the idea goes further than making money and buying and selling and into helping the community at large, said LaMalfa. Since 2007, People’s Market has allowed Utahns to use their Horizon Cards — food stamps which work like a debit card — to purchase fresh produce. Users swipe their card upon entering the market and receive tokens, which vendors accept as cash. At the end of the day, vendors are able to redeem the tokens for money.

Thanks to a signature event grant from Salt Lake City, the market is also able to give Horizon Card users some extra help in these cash-strapped times.

“This year when you come and swipe your card, you’d normally you get one token, but we’re going to give you two,” he said. “We will match food stamp benefits dollar for dollar until the money runs out.”

This year’s market will also launch several events to help local growers. In January, farmers and gardeners met to exchange seeds in preparation for the planting season. On May 15, growers are invited to share and swap the results in People’s Market’s first annual Seedling Swap & Sale. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., growers are invited to trade and sell their growing plants in front of Jordan Park’s greenhouses, 1000 South 900 W.

“You can open your trunk, put them [the plants] on your hood or in your truck beds,” said LaMalfa. “We’re hoping that you can meet some people with similar interests and that you can sell your more valuable seedlings for money.”

In autumn, growers will share the (literal) fruits of their labor in the market’s Crop Swap, the end result of its drive to encourage Utahns to eat local.

“Now we just need a compost swap,” LaMalfa laughed.

In recent years, Rose Park and Glendale have been known as dangerous and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Although LaMalfa does not know whether that reputation is changing, he added, that he hoped the market was making a contribution to the area similar to the one Salt Lake City’s Farmer’s Market has to Pioneer Park.

“That’s def happened with the Downtown Farmer’s Market. Pioneer Park used to be a very sketchy place,” he said. “Part of the hope for People’s Market is the perception of that neighborhood as being unsafe has diminished.”

For more information about People’s Market and to see a vendor application visit slcpeoplesmarket.org.

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