A Taste of Sierra Vista

Diane Jones manages the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market, a rural market with a big community.

March 11, 2017

Edible InterviewIssue 23: March/April 2017

Diane and Jim Jones.

You manage the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market.
How did the market develop?

Today we’re a mature, established market, and we still have a significant percentage of original vendors that have been with us for 12 years. The market started back in 2005, when a few ranchers and a grower were selling their goods in the parking lot of a store here in Sierra Vista. When the store closed, the informal little gathering needed to find a new location. So, they asked for help from Valerie McCaffrey, who had launched the Bisbee Farmers’ Market a couple of years earlier. Valerie already knew some of these vendors, because in Cochise County, everything overlaps. Everyone knows someone to talk to. So, Valerie found a lot owned by Wick Communications, and asked if vendors could borrow the lot. They generously agreed to let those two growers and a rancher begin selling in the lot, for free. Within a few months, the market had attracted 10 to 12 more vendors, and has grown continuously ever since. We eventually moved out of that lot when the City of Sierra Vista agreed to let us operate in Veterans Memorial Park. For Sierra Vista, the park is analogous to what Central Park would be for New York City; it’s a beautiful spot.

Lauren Jones sells Hawaiian shaved ice at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market.

How did you first become involved with the market, and what type of preparation is needed each week to successfully operate a farmers’ market of this size?

It’s a small world, actually. My husband, Jim, and I first met Valerie when we all worked together on a little Harvest Festival in Elfrida. We began to help her with market-related events in Bisbee and Sierra Vista, and Jim and I were regular customers at the market. So, Jim and I met and became acquainted with many of the growers, without knowing that we’d ever be involved in the market business. When Valerie left the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market in 2010, it was a natural fit for me to take over, since I’d been a member of the advisory board and had helped with the market for so long. Today, I always tell people that I’m just as much a promoter as a manager. My job, essentially, is to support promotion and publicity for the market just as Valerie did, so I work with organizations and vendors to find out who’s coming, share what they’re bringing, and promote their goods and services to our customers. I send out a weekly newsletter with special events, and I write a concise version for our local newspaper to be published the day before the market. Every week, I feel as if I’ve hosted an enormous party when the market is over. I’ve lived here for 20 years, so each week I see friends whose kids I watched grow up, who now have their own kids. My husband is still indispensable to the whole operation, too. He does so much work both at the market and behind the scenes, and I couldn’t run it without him.

Don Beard.

The Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market not only attracts members of the Sierra Vista Community, it also brings Tucsonans and tourists, too. What type of experience does the market offer for locals and out-of-towners alike?

We have a very small-town, community feel, which is very contagious, even if you don’t live here. People who visit tell me that they feel as if they’re part of something special when they visit; there’s just a friendly vibe. Our location is also in an absolutely beautiful spot, so people love taking day trips. We’re surrounded by mountain views, and many people aren’t aware that our mountains in Sierra Vista are just as breathtaking and steep as those in Tucson. Miller Peak reaches around 9,500 feet. So, you can come and shop at the market, or you can also enjoy spending time in the park and eating lunch from the food trucks at one of our picnic tables. I wish people knew that many of our growers live practically within the city limits. Some are just a few miles beyond town. If you head to just about any function in this town, say, a youth orchestra concert, you’ll see groups of ranchers, growers, and customers and their families who are entrenched in the market, but also in the city itself. That type of proximity creates a different atmosphere from hosting vendors from other parts of the state.

In addition to the atmosphere, what type of distinct culinary offerings set the market apart?

We are fortunate to have many organizations that work with us or do outreach at the market, but I also work hard to ensure that we are never oversaturated in any category. One of the distinctive features of the market is our vast selection of meats. We offer everything from beef to goat, lamb, pork, chicken, emu, yak, and wild-caught salmon and cod; there’s really a massive assortment, and the products are almost entirely raised on nearby ranches. We have jams, honeys, salsas, oils, coffee, body care items, plants, alpaca fleece products, a small percentage of crafts, and of course, plenty of fresh produce. We have also started to accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, so that more people than ever can enjoy fresh, local food.

Sierra Vista is a fairly small rural community. How has the farmers’ market impacted the city?

Someone once told me that tourists visit markets to experience a flavor of the community. I think we function as good ambassadors for our city, but I also will never forget when one customer told me that for her, she feels most like she has a hometown when she comes to the market. I see soldiers having lunch at the food trucks and community members thanking them for their service; I see elderly, lonely people coming to the market for an opportunity to see people they know. The market unites people from all ethnic groups, ages, and segments of society. In addition to supporting local growers and thereby food security for our region, the market has truly helped bring citizens of Sierra Vista together. ✜

Marguerite Happe is a writer, English teacher, and editor. Follow her on Instagram @margueritehappe.

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