Farm to Table Report – SEPT/OCT 2018
Tucsonans aren’t the only ones that have been heating up this summer. For the last few months, southern Arizona farmers have been growing red, green, and every-color-in-between chiles for their customers. To help satisfy your insatiable chile cravings, Heirloom Farmers Markets is dedicating four days to celebrating these seasonal specialties at the 17th Annual Chile Festival from September 12-16.
“Our annual Chile Festival is the event our customers and vendors look forward to each year. The aromas of fresh roasted Hatch chiles fill the market and our vendors always impress by offering chile-themed foods for the weekend,” says Nick Szumowski, Director of Operations at Heirloom Farmers Markets. Ease into the celebrations on Wednesday, September 12 (Green Valley Village Farmers and Artisans Market), Friday September 14 (Trail Dust Town Farmers Market), and Saturday September 15 (Oro Valley Farmers Market) as you enjoy the sound of live Spanish guitar music, stock up on freshly roasted chiles, and take advantage of chile-themed specials from market vendors. Once you’ve had your first taste of chile season, turn up the heat at the Grande Chile Festivals on Saturday, September 15 at and Sunday, September 16.
The Grande Chile Festival kicks off with food, beer, and live music at the Rincon Valley Farmers and Artisans Market on September 15. The Rincon Valley Farmers and Artisans Market has been serving freshly roasted chiles since 2001, and you better believe they do it well. Let your taste buds take you from stall to stall as you sample different varieties of roasted chiles and revel in chile-infused specialties from some of the best local farmers and food purveyors. Stay the whole day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and listen to the live rock music of John Grant & The Guilty Bystanders as you satisfy your chile cravings and put out the fiery flame in your mouth with a drink from the beer garden. On Sunday, follow your nose to the Rillito Park Farmers Market for the final day of the 17th Annual Chile Festival, where the festivities continue with the addition of live mariachi music by Mariachi Estrellas de Tucson and regionally inspired food from Seis Kitchen. To guarantee that you get a taste of Red’s Roasters’ infamous fire-roasted Hatch chiles, be sure to pre-order a bag by September 12 by calling 520-409-3406. And, thanks to farms like SouthWinds Farm, Sleeping Frog Farms, Robb’s Family Farm, Arevalos Farm, and Larry’s Veggies, there will be no shortage of fresh chiles available.
Whether you want to spend one, two, or four days celebrating the 17th Annual Chile Festival, you can get your chile fix at all five Heirloom Farmers Markets this September.
For farmers, summer monsoons are more than reprieve from the intense heat – the health of their crops literally depends on them. Although they all farm in southern Arizona, our local farmers across the region have experienced varying effects from the sporadic rains and unpredictable weather this summer. Between ripping high tunnels out of the ground and giving crops an extra burst of rejuvenation, this year’s monsoon season hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Bill Struse, who owns and operates Backyard Gardening and Growing with his wife and five kids, reports that monsoon rains have been more intermittent than usual this year. The Struse family began growing food in their backyard in Hereford about ten years ago as a way to feed themselves. They turned out to be great at gardening, and were soon growing so much food that they started selling it at the Rillito Park Farmers Market in the summers. Although Backyard Gardening and Growing’s market booth originally consisted of a small table of excess produce, year by year it has grown to include a large selection of seasonal vegetables, fruit, and even quail eggs.
“We try to be as resourceful as possible,” says Bill Struse, as he describes how he and his family feed themselves and others with the food grown in their garden and fruit orchard. Located at the base of the Huachuca Mountains at a relatively cool 5,000 feet elevation, the Struses’ land can grow summer produce that doesn’t tolerate the heat in other parts of southern Arizona. Still, a good monsoon season is crucial to the success of their fruit trees, which they can’t water enough themselves. “Typically we depend on the monsoons to get us over the edge,” says Bill Struse.
You can expect to find a plethora of homegrown produce—bright bursting tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, okra, beans, peaches, pears, and apples—at Backyard Gardening and Growing until they run out in October or November. Stock up on a variety of apples, including Gala apples, Granny Smith apples, and Bill’s Favorite the Pixie Crunch apples so that you can make crisps, galettes, and pies all autumn long.
Over on the banks of Aravaipa Creek, Aravaipa Creekside Growers owners Nicole DeVito and Andrew Carhuff experienced a slow start to monsoon season. Although they recognize the challenges that monsoon season brings with it—namely oversaturating the soil and washing away newly planted seeds—the farmers eagerly anticipate the boost that extra water gives to their crops. DeVito and Carhuff’s flowers accurately reflect how we all feel after a good monsoon rain: they stand up a little taller, feeling revitalized and ready to survive the rest of the summer. Aravaipa Creekside Growers will offer beautiful bouquets of brightly colored zinnias, fragrant basil flowers, amaranth, and statice until the first frost in November. For a taste of summer, take home a bag of their beautiful basil and make a large batch of pesto to store and freeze for later use. One taste of bright pesto in the dead of winter will evoke feelings of summer long after the smell of monsoon rain has left your memory. For now? Focus on withstanding the summer heat, dig into one of Aravaipa Creekside Growers’ sweet Sugar Baby watermelons, and march forward into cooler weather.
Despite wishing for lower temperatures, summer is still in high gear at Arevalos Farm in Double Adobe, a tiny town situated in Cochise County near the Arizona-Mexico border. The third-generation farm, run by Aaron Arevalos and his wife Marla, is brimming with late summer crops like cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, tomatoes, and infamous Tohono O’odham Yellow-Meated watermelons.
When Aaron Arevalos couldn’t find the variety of yellow watermelon that his grandfather once grew on the farm, he went looking for something that would compare to the sweet, juicy, yellow-fleshed melons he remembered from his childhood. He found his answer at Native Seeds/SEARCH: Tohono O’odham Yellow-Meated watermelon, known as “Gepi” in O’odham. The heritage melons, which can get to be up to 35 pounds each and grow well in Arizona’s harsh summer heat, are revered for their crisp, sweet, and undeniably delicious flesh. Arevalos entered into a seed contract with Native Seeds/SEARCH: in return for 1,000 Tohono O’odham Yellow-Meated watermelon seeds up front, he gave them one pound of seeds saved from his first harvest. Since then, he’s perfected growing these yellow-meated melons and can get them to be “nice and sweet,” says Arevalos.
Spotty, unpredictable monsoons have led the Arevalos family to be less dependent on summer rains. “Monsoons have been all over the place,” says Arevalos. Aside from being unpredictable, monsoons bring with them a slew of problems – their excess rain can cause disease, uncontrollable weeds, muddy produce, and an influx in grasshopper populations. More beneficial to farmers like the Arevalos—who grow without pesticides and herbicides—are gentle, slow, and steady rains that the ground can properly absorb.
In July, Cochise Family Farms and Robbs Family Farm were damaged by a microburst that included a hail storm and flash flooding. In 20 minutes, the storm devastated 60 acres of crops at Cochise Family Farm and ripped off a high tunnel at Robbs Family Farm, both located in Cochise County. But the storms haven’t slowed these determined farmers down too much. “Luckily we have a community that’s really come together,” says Cochise Family Farms’ Katelyn Urso. They’ll continue to sell a variety of undamaged peaches, summer produce, and canned goods until the farm is fully up and running again.
Despite the relentless summer sun, the cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, and herbs that once sat below Alan and Kathy Robbs’ high tunnel are continuing to grow even without protection from the shade. While the couple agrees that monsoon rains perk everything up, the increase in damage, bugs, and weeds that monsoon rains bring can sometimes mean that they’re more of a nuisance than an asset. Customers can expect to find a wide variety of summer produce, including okra, tomatoes, squash, garlic, basil, and peppers, at Robb’s Family Farm for the next few weeks. Come late September, the Robbs family will be busy harvesting their pistachios, which will go into cold storage and get roasted in small batches throughout the year.
Unlike the perfectly round tomatoes, unblemished apples, and uniform zucchini you find at grocery stores, local produce at the farmers market has character. Local produce isn’t grown on an industrial monocrop farm—it’s grown without herbicides and pesticides on small, sustainable, and diverse farms. “If you’re growing produce yourself, it’s not going to be perfect,” says Backyard Gardening and Growing’s Bill Struse. “If you see produce that’s perfect and uniform, it’s probably grown in a greenhouse or on a factory farm.” The next time you’re shopping at the farmers market, challenge yourself to take home the funniest-looking produce you can find – and taste for yourself how wonderful it really is.
Looking for another chance to support local farmers and artisans? You’re in luck! Heirloom Farmers Markets recently took over management at the Rincon Valley Farmers and Artisans Market, located on Old Spanish Trail in southeast Tucson. As part of the non-profit Rincon Institute, this market works to support local growers and artisans, increase public access to local goods, and foster community throughout the Rincon, Vail, and Tanque Verde valleys. Come out to the Rincon Valley Farmers and Artisans Market every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to see what this locally focused market is all about.