This month marks the return of local summer farmers markets. This increasingly popular way of getting fresh, local food to the dinner table is not only good for your health, but it’s also good for the local economy and it’s driving the growth that we’re seeing in Utah’s agriculture industry.
According to the 2017 Agriculture Census data, the U.S. lost 67,000 farms, and 14.3 million acres of farmland, since 2012. Here in Utah, it’s a bit of a different story. While we are losing farmland to development —more than 162,000 acres since 2012 — the Beehive State actually gained 382 farms in that five-year period.
The majority of these new farms are small, urban farms, many of which are producing organic products. According to the census numbers, Utah has seen a 63-percent increase in the number of certified organic producers.
One of Utah’s newest organic farms is PaMaw’s Organic Farm in Daniel, Utah. Owned by Kevan and Sherri Nilsson, PaMaw’s Organic Farm grows just about every vegetable you can imagine — except lemon cucumbers. “Turns out people just want basic green cucumbers,” explained Nilsson.
Scaling back his boutique crops is one small lesson Kevan has learned since starting his new life as an organic farmer two years ago. Prior to that, he had spent 45 years as a general contractor in the construction business.
Becoming an organic farmer is a passion as much as it has been an important lifestyle change for Kevan and his wife. “We’ve become really health conscious in older age,” said Nilsson. “With the amount of chemicals and everything they spray for insects… If people really knew the truth about conventional farming, I don’t think they’d eat vegetables.”
Kevan’s vegetables are free from pesticides, herbicides and certified organic through the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. The time and care he puts into his crops is evident to his customers that show up every week to the Park City Farmer’s Market — held every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. June to October at Park City Resort. “My customers know they’re getting vegetables that were cut that morning or the day before,” said Nilsson.
The demand for more organic local produce is pushing the popularity of farmers’ markets across the state. Knowing where food is coming from is becoming more and more important to Utahns and its shifting spending habits.
Foodies along the Wasatch Front have been flocking to Pioneer Park to buy local produce, meats, cheeses, and more at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City for more than two decades. As the hunger grew for more local food, so did the popularity of this downtown staple. Today, the Downtown Farmers Market is a gathering place for thousands of residents from across the Wasatch Front. You’ll find Pioneer Park packed on Saturdays from June through October.
Buying produce at your local farmers market means you’re getting the freshest fruits and vegetables available. Typically, what you’ll find in the grocery store, whether it’s organic or traditionally grown, travels an average of 1,500 miles before it ends up on your dinner plate! That means it won’t taste as good, and it’s not as good for you as produce from your local farmer. The nutritional value of produce declines once it’s harvested, with some vegetables losing as much as half of their nutritional value within hours.
If you still need another reason to buy locally, consider the economic impact. Local farms are local businesses, and when you spend your money at a local business more money is kept in the local economy and you’re helping to create local jobs.
So consider visiting a local farmers market this summer and maybe even make it a goal to add in a couple of locally grown or produced foods into your family’s meals every week — it’s a move that’s good for you and good for our economy.