Carl Seacat is a mainstay of many Valley farmers markets. Seacat grows his produce in the West Valley on Blue Sky Farms farmland as well as up in Cottonwood during summer/fall months. You can find his produce at markets around the valley including Roadrunner, Downtown Phoenix Public Market, Old Town Scottsdale and Flagstaff. His produce is prepared in some of the finest restaurants around the state. He's even started foraging Arizona mushrooms to grow his business.
This former software company owner who planted the first thing I ever grew in his backyard the spring of 2003 is now the "voice" of the local grower due to his passion and honesty he shares frequently on twitter (@seacatgardens).
Here is his perfect food day -- using food gathered from his favorite vendors at markets from all over the Valley. First, his actual day gathering the goods with photographer Tim Lenz and the perfect meals designed by Chef Gwen Ashley Walters:
When first asked to participate in this series I declined since I spend the majority of my time either nose down in the dirt or driving back and forth between Phoenix, Cottonwood and Sedona and don't either have a lot of time to eat out or consider myself much of an expert on the local dining scene. A little thought, however, and it occurred to me that I spend my summers amidst a number of very hard working, wonderful people who labor diligently in the extreme heat to do their best to bring you an often under recognized bounty of Valley summer vegetables.
With that thought, I asked my great, good bud Tim Lenz to grab his camera and join me for a three market Saturday tour to highlight this local summer bounty for you. So, with a little help from my friends, as always...J I give you my Perfect Summer Farmers Market Eating Day...
Tim and I meet at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, a wonderful local institution where market director Cindy Gentry allowed me to bring and sell my one item, quart bags of Genovese basil, which gave me my start in this business five or so years ago. Strolling down the first aisle we stop and chat with Derek Slife of ChowLocally about their intriguing new online CSA venture which allows customers to select their own veggies weekly from participating vendors on their website. It's an excellent idea and their first day at the Downtown Market was a rousing success.
Over at the very full Maya's Farm booth we see a bounty of Shishito peppers, huge squash blossoms, Lacinato kale, okra and eggplant amongst the beautiful flowers and other produce items. Maya Dailey is a local farming legend and an anchor of the downtown market.
We spent a lot of time speaking with Mark Rhine of Rhiba Farms listening to his enthusiastic and extraordinary explanation of how they produce their delicate microgreens, wheatgrass and shoots. To the best of my recollection, it has something to do with fish.... I recall making a mental note to call Mark and arrange a visit when I have a spare day to go check out what has to be one of the most interesting growing operations in the Valley.
We're off now to another market favorite...the ever smiling and always popular Dave Jordan aka "Dave the Eggman" of Two Wash Ranch in New River. It had been awhile since I had seen him and the booth was beautiful with patty pan squash, Chinese Yellow and Painted Serpent cucumbers, burr gherkins, numerous herbs and, yes, Genovese basil...the best. Chatting with Dave is always a good time and I hope to be able to stop by his farm someday.
A quick stop at the Crow's Dairy booth to grab some of their delicious Chevre and it's over to the booth and a chat with Jennifer Woods while we admire the colorful purple beans, carrots and amaranth greens. Crooked Sky is a local Phoenix farm with a thriving CSA operation.
On our way out we spot Cindy Gentry, resplendent in her best designer headband, and I stop to ask her the obvious question...Why in the world do you keep this market open in the summer in all this heat? "Are you kidding? Look around. We have 76 vendors here many of whom are very small and are just getting their start. We have three growing seasons and summer is one of them. We have beautiful locally grown vegetables here and a hundred stories every Saturday. This market provides a wonderful opportunity to connect all of these very hard working and productive growers with the local community. I wouldn't think of closing it during the summer." As a vocal advocate of local, small growers, I can't say it better myself. Hopping in the car we take off to the Roadrunner Park Farmers Market at SR51 and Cactus Rd where Seacat Gardens will debut for the fall/winter season Saturday 9/24. Roadrunner just celebrated its 21st anniversary and is the oldest continuously operating farmers market in Arizona. Many of the Downtown Phoenix vendors are also at Roadrunner so we stop at the On the Vine booth to survey Guy Gillespie's summer tomatoes, beautiful eggplant and various clamshells of sprouts. Guy is one of the very few growers, like me, who dares to try growing real tomatoes outside during the winter. We commiserate a lot in December and January.
"We have operated our markets year round for the past 21 years to give our local growers an opportunity to showcase the fabulously sweet melons, corn, squashes, eggplants, cucumbers, okra, herbs and other summer crops that reflect the amazing biodiversity produced by this Valley in all seasons" says Dee Logan senior coordinator for the Arizona Community Farmers Market Group. "Summer markets provide an opportunity for the public to experience and connect directly with these very dedicated professional growers who add so much to the community with their very difficult work during the summer heat."
We're on the road again now to Scottsdale to check out the summer Scottsdale Stadium Farmers Market inside the concourse of Scottsdale Stadium, where I usually hang my summer market hat until it closes in late August.
We chat with Eddie Key of Circle Key Farms in Eloy, producer of grass fed meats, and discover that along with his goat meat, sirloins, T-bones and roasts, he is the only local producer of cottage bacon, a Canadian style bacon. Eddie also grows various vegetables including a mean sweet and juicy watermelon that is among the best of them.
It's now noon, the markets are closing and we're off to make our Perfect Summer Farmers Market Day lunch!
Here are the meals that Chef Gwen Ashley Walters has prepared for Seacat using his market loot.
Breakfast: A fresh egg frittata with Rhiba Farms eggs, Crow's Dairy chevre and topped with Rhiba Farms arugula and green pea shoots
Mid-morning snack: Chilled watermelon slices from Circle Key Farms
Lunch: Ratatouille with Rhiba Farms baby onions, On The Vine tomatoes and eggplant and Two Wash Ranch patty pan squash and Genovese basil.
Fried squash blossoms from Maya's Farm, stuffed with Crow's Dairy chevre and Two Wash Ranch's Genovese basil.
Mid-afternoon snack: Sauteed Maya's Farm shishito peppers with soy, ginger and sesame.
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Dinner: A chopped salad of Maya's Farm Lacinato kale, Crooked Sky carrots and Two Wash Ranch cucumbers (Chinese Yellow and Painted Serpent).
Grilled Circle Key Farms rib steak with sauteed purple beans from Crooked Sky and Za'atar spiced fried okra from Maya's Farm
Carl Seacat gives big thanks to Chef Gwen Ashley Walters for her help with these "meal groupings." Photography by Tim Lenz.