Throughout the summer, the Downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market, sponsored by the Downtown Alliance, brings people together over locally grown produce and unique—tasty creations. And then it’s winter. The frigid cold, icy roads and occasional frostbite are not for the faint of heart, and the Farmers Market is over for the season, leaving a depressing void for those who shop our local food scene and make their living at the market.
Last winter the Downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market held pop-up markets as a solution to the winter funk. They were enjoyable monthly events held at various places downtown where you could stock up on local goodies and get your food truck fix (Eating a warm, garlicky falafel sandwich from Lewis Bros food truck as it snowed at Gallivan Plaza will always be one of my favorite food truck memories!). But the strong demand for a year-round market warranted a better solution. Salt Lake City needed a year-round market. The Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance put their heads together with Salt Lake’s Mayor Ralph Becker for a solution.
"The launch of the Downtown Winter Market, and the eventual establishment of a year-round Salt Lake City Farmers Market, is the realization of a long-term goal that is a boon for residents, our local farmers, downtown merchants and many others” says Mayor Ralph Becker. “The local focus of the market not only has direct economic benefits for our community, but represents another step in addressing air quality issues through its potential to reduce emissions and the overall carbon footprint associated with the production and distribution of the food we eat. I encourage not only our residents, but our neighbors in nearby communities, to support and enjoy this great new asset."
They needed another partner to make their vision a reality, and a venue that jibed with their dedication to reviving the area. The Rio Grande Depot, built in 1910 for the Denver Rio Grande and Western Railroad, is home to the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts. Regarded as “Utah’s Heart and Soul,” the department was a likely associate to boost the local economy and welcome the popular farmers market. “We are excited to partner with Mayor Ralph Becker and the Downtown Alliance,” says Geoffrey Fattah, the Public Information Officer for the Department of Heritage and Arts. “The Winter Farmers Market is a great step toward revitalizing the Rio Grande District. It also allows us to share the great services our department has to offer, like the Rio Gallery and the State History and Archives Research Center."
The Winter Market will take place every other Saturday at the beautiful Rio Grande Depot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Vendors fill the second floor mezzanine overlooking the art gallery and farmers take over the back area offering gorgeous fresh produce. Food trucks are lined up in anticipation of hungry shoppers along the street behind the Depot. It’s an amazing transformation—“We are thrilled to be able to host the Winter Farmers Market in one of Utah’s most historic and beautiful buildings. We look forward to working with the Department of Heritage and Arts to bring new energy to the neighborhood while benefiting small business and farmers,” says Alison Einerson, the Winter Market Manager for the Downtown Alliance.
The opening day was kind of magical. Full disclosure: I work at the Rio Grande Depot when I’m not rambling about food and beer for SLUG Magazine. The transformation from historic and beautiful (but occasional boring) workplace to my favorite thing in the world, the Farmers Market, was awesome.
Outside the Depot, along with the multiple produce vendors, Laziz Mediterranean Spreads offered generous samples of their hummus and other spreads. “The market helps our business by providing us the opportunity to interact and meet our customers. It’s always good to put a face and a story to those who consume our food, because it all boils down to relationships,” says Moudi Sbeity, one half of the Laziz team. “The winter market specifically helps with cash flow when all other markets are shut down, and wholesale can be tough, as most stores pay months out after the fact. It really is good for us mentally and financially to be surrounded by caring people and friends in the business community, doing what we do best: talking about Middle Eastern food.”
Besides visiting with my established favorites, I discovered vendors I usually miss, like The Bagel Project, where I purchased a half-dozen of old fashioned bagels. Made without complications like eggs and sugar and carefully hand-shaped and boiled, these are authentic and delicious. Sugarhouse Libations also caught my eye with charming labels and concoctions that seemed delightfully old timey. One taste of the Pear Ginger Infused Syrup and I was sold. Cocktails and Christmas go hand in hand for me—a fancy mixer on hand this Christmas seems like just the thing. Reasonably priced at less than $20 per bottle, Sugarhouse Libations will have a permanent place in my bar (Have I mentioned just how much I love the Farmers Market?!).
The Farmers Market is about community as much as it’s about food. Having a place to gather throughout the winter is imperative to support our local food producers. Knowing I’ll be well fed throughout the long cold months makes winter not so bad. The Winter Market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Rio Grande Depot every other Saturday until April. Stop by to pick up your local favorites and discover new treats. Visit their website for a complete list of vendors and exact dates.