Tempe Farmers' Markets Suffering From Identity Crisis

Downtown Tempe's couple of block radius now has not one, but four farmers' markets. What sounds like a great idea in theory is actually a hot mess. Only the brick-and-mortar version has an identity of its own, and even that is shaky.

​The Tempe Farmers Market is located in the old Levi's exchange cement block building on University Dr. and Farmer. It's part college-centric boutique grocery store and part farmers' market, with a little lounge area for relaxing with a cuppa coffee or a cupcake from The Cupcake Cafe while watching TV. There are two great things about this store: the extensive selection of ethnic and vegan/vegetarian foods, and the fact it's open seven days a week.

The grocery labels all of the Arizona-made products with handmade signs so you know what's local and what's not. Here's a hint: Most of it is not. The shelves are crammed with imported canned and boxed foods, which is disappointing when compared to the nearly all-local contents of the Downtown Phoenix Public Market Urban Grocery & Wine Bar.

But that doesn't mean you should pass up the store entirely. It's relatively new, so there's room for changes and more local vendors. And TFM does carry a couple dozen local faves already, including Crave artisan ice cream, Crockett honey, Fairytale brownie bites, La Canasta tortillas and Cartel coffee.

The Bottom Line: Tempe Farmers Market isn't a bad place to shop for a couple of things, especially if you live in Tempe and don't want to drive/bike/light rail it up to Phoenix or Scottsdale's farmers' markets. Then again, it's no Gentle Strength Co-Op (grumble!!), the organic grocery that was demolished a few years back to make way for condos that never happened.  

Tempe has three other farmers' markets of the traditional variety: the Thursday night Market on Mill in front of MADCAP Theatres, the Sunday Mill Avenue Farmers' Market and a monthly farmers' market at Orange Mall on ASU's main campus. Problem is, they're all pretty tiny. One common complaint about the Mill Avenue markets is that they have too much art and imported produce packaged in Mexico, and not enough local produce and food vendors. 

This is Arizona, folks! There are only so many local farms and artisan food makers. With all these teeny farmers' markets popping up around town, do we really have enough local products to support them all? Or would Phoenix metro be better served with just a few great, large farmers markets spread around town? We'll just have to wait and see what you -- the community -- decides.

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