One of several of its kind today, including the People’s Market in the Rose Park neighborhood, the downtown market was among the first of its kind in the state. It opened in the early 1990s during the same year its parent organization, the Downtown Alliance, came into being.
“At the time, Salt Lake City targeted the neighborhood for revitalization and to clean up the park,” said Kim Angeli-Selin, the alliance’s special-events director, referring to Pioneer Park where the market has been held since that time. “The park was literally littered with needles and well known as a haven of criminal activity. One of the strategies to revitalize the park was to introduce programming and activities to bring people to the park for community gatherings.”
Launched by the alliance’s former executive director, Bob Farrington, the market was one such program. However, said Angeli-Selin, it had a difficult start because of the park’s reputation and because “the farmers-market movement had yet to sweep the nation.”
“The concept of selling direct to the public was not a regular part of the business plan for the farmers,” she explained.
In its first year, the market attracted only about 10 vendors and a handful of customers. It began to take off, however, when community sponsors came on board. The alliance’s decision to invite other vendors, including bakers and those who created “garden-inspired art” also widened the circle of customers. Today, the market’s roster includes scores of farmers, beekeepers, ranchers, growers and even those who sell prepared food. The alliance added an Art and Craft Market in 2003 as well. Current attractions also include popular cooking demonstrations by the Viking Cooking School.
Additionally, the market has taken several steps to reduce its effect on the environment. This year, vendors are being encouraged to use recyclable materials and customers are asked to bring bags instead of asking for plastic or paper. A bicycle valet is also on hand to encourage the use of pollution-free transportation. Rocky Mountain Power is also providing “eco-friendly” energy through its Blue Sky program. The company will have a booth at the market to sign up customers for what it calls this “voluntary renewable energy program.”
“We truly are focused on making this market a zero-waste marketplace,” said Angeli-Selin. “We’re covering a lot of details. We have a fellow from the University of Utah who is working with our vendors to use eco-friendly packaging for food.”
Today, she said, the market attracts vendors from all across the state and a few from Idaho and Wyoming. It also draws up to 10,000 people each Saturday from all walks of life and all of the state’s neighborhoods.
“I think there are a couple of reasons for this,” she said. “First, food is a commonality we all share and the market offers fresh-picked produce at its peak and plates of homemade delicious cuisine. There truly is something for everyone.”
“Also, the market is free and a central gathering place in a beautiful urban green space,” she continued. “The market is a place for people to spend their Saturday mornings surrounded by the Salt Lake community. Markets are a place to meet new people, to strike up conversations, to run into old friends.”
“We are in the midst of a food renaissance,” she said. “Buy fresh! Buy local! Treat your body to fresh, healthy fruits and veggies. Make the farmers market a part of your weekly shopping routine, your taste buds will thank you.”
The market, located in Historic Pioneer Park, 300 S. 300 West, is now open Saturdays from 8:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Starting Aug. 3, the market also will be open Tuesday evenings from 4:00 p.m. to dusk. The market’s season ends Oct. 16. Information about an indoor, winter market is also forthcoming. For more information visit downtownslc.org.