Food festival returns to Tucson this weekend

Tucson Local Media • By Lee Alan, Special to the Explorer • Published03/28/15

Where else in town can you find beets, bicycles and baklava all within an arms reach?  Try Tucson Tandem, a partnership of Heirloom Farmers Markets and Living Streets Alliance, to take place the weekend of Oct. 31-Nov. 1. The beets and eats are at the Heirloom Market at Rillito Park on Saturday while the Cyclovia Tucson bike event offers  five miles of car-free city streets along a midtown route on Sunday.

“We’re co-marketing the festivities because we have a lot of folks who patronize both events,” says Diane Frisch, event coordinator for Viva La Local Food Festival. “Rather than competing, we’d prefer to work together because we have a lot of market customers who use the Rillito Park bike loop to get to the market for fresh vegetables.”  

As further proof of the partnership, festival goers can shop Baja Arizona’s finest farm vendors and store their fresh purchases with a complimentary bike valet — a Veggie Valet if you will — hosted by Living Streets Alliance as food patrons explore the mecca of restaurants available.

“The Tucson Tandem weekend promotes community, health and wellness, active living and sustainability,” said Christina Geare of Banner-University Medical Center, one of the events sponsors.

“We run the farmers market and we’re doing event planning every week anyway, so why not add to the other festivities,” asked Heirloom Farmers Markets co-director Manish Shah. HFM, with three locations (Fridays on the Eastside at Trail Dust Town, 6541 E. Tanque Verde Road; Saturdays in Oro Valley at Steam Pump Ranch, 10901 North Oracle Road, and a Sunday Market at Rillito Park, 4502 North 1st Ave.), is celebrating 13 years as a leading local food outlet.

“We believe good food, good farms and good communities profoundly enrich our lives and our mission is to strengthen the community food systems of Southern Arizona,” said Shah. “We are dedicated to farm viability, promoting sustainable land use and engaging the community in the food system. HFM has grown from year one with a mere five participating farms to a current 80 vendors that attract some 1,500-2,000 people to farmers markets weekly.”

Those numbers double at the Viva La Local Food Festival.  

“The first couple of events drew crowds of 3,000 or so and this year, based on Facebook feedback and other advance indications, we’re looking at 4,000, maybe close to 5,000, who will turn out,” Shah said.

Shah says the intent of the event is threefold. First, as a 501C(3) non-profit operation, HFM uses the festival as a fundraiser.  

“Secondly, it helps raise the level of awareness in good food and where to find it. If someone likes a particular brewery and shows up to visit the familiar, they may get exposed to a local cheese maker they were unaware of,” Shah said. “People who like to eat and imbide on a local basis get a chance to be introduced to and experience what’s available locally. And number three, it’s great for the folks who are providing the local foods, all the producers and purveyors, to interact with each other. Restaurant owners get some time to talk to farmers and wine makers.”

Shah knows personally the benefits of this kind of interaction.  

“I own a small tea company that got started at a farmers market. My firm (Maya Tea Company) is now a national tea company offering 200 varieties of tea,” Shah said. “It got that way with a lot of support from local businesses thinking collectively as a group that celebrated local foods. People tend to forget that Heirloom Farmers Markets is a non-profit. 

“Our sole mission as a living, breathing, entity is to spread the word, to promote and elevate the benefits of eating local and our network of farmers represents the hub of that activity. Heirloom is the largest example of that crusade.”

The Heirloom Farmers Market moved from St. Phillip’s to Rillito last summer and moved into pavilion spaces a year ago November. 

They will charge a $6 admission (children under 12 are free). 

Asked about the total dollar disbursement at such a festival, Shah said: “Six bucks to enter, perhaps $10-$20 in purchases from each of the expected several thousand attendees…what can I say? It’s sizable.”

Marketplace doors will open at 9 a.m . 

“There will be some restaurants serving breakfast-type food until about 11 a.m. when the other restaurants, as well as beer and wine vendors and musical entertainment, join the fun,” says Frisch.  “This is a family-oriented event so food and beverage costs will be minimal with restaurant dishes, beer, and wine priced at $5. There will be special activities for the kids and market vendors won’t start packing up until they’ve run out of product to sell. All-in-all, a great way to spend a lovely fall day.”

More information on Viva La Local Food Festival can be found at  For details on Cyclovia Tucson, visit