How Green Is Your Valley?

Just as the rest of the country is harvesting the last of summer's abundance and preparing for winter, our local farmers swing into high gear. Celebrate the off-kilter Arizona growing season with a visit to one of the Valley's local farmers' markets.

What makes a farmers' market better than the chain supermarket on the corner? First, it's just plain good for you. "The highest content of vitamins and minerals is in what grows in your backyard or what your grower will bring to the market," says Dee Logan, director of the Arizona Community Farmers' Market Association. While supermarket produce may stay in cold storage for days or weeks, market items usually leave the field no more than 24 hours before arriving on the stand. And the majority of growers are organic.

Farmers' markets offer flavor that supermarket produce can't touch. As any successful backyard tomato grower can tell you, those bland but nonetheless bright red round items sold at the supermarket bear no relation to vine-ripened tomatoes. With more than 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the ground, the Happydirt Veggie Patch's twice-weekly market is a can't-miss for tomato aficionados. Provided the weather cooperates, November should bring juicy, beefsteak Brandywines, the ripe-when-green, striped Green Zebra, and Russia's tangy Black Krim.

By shopping at a local market, you also help to sustain small farms and local farming families. At the upcoming Incredible Edible Fall Festival, growers like Tanita Farms of Waddell and Crooked Sky Farms of Glendale will feature melons, beans, okra and other warm-weather crops. Greens will follow in November.

Finally, shopping at a farmers' market fosters a sense of community, not only for the shoppers who interact on market day, but also for the growers. Backyards and community garden plots provide the produce for the Harmon Park Farmers' Market, which opens for business Tuesday, November 6.

"Many folks of many races are coming together to work as gardeners," says market coordinator and community organizer Julian Sodari. The diversity of the South Phoenix neighborhood is reflected in the vegetables on sale: Chinese residents offer bok choy and string beans, African-American backyard gardeners supply spicy greens, and Hispanic neighbors contribute chiles and cilantro. Be sure to arrive early for the best selection.