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SALT LAKE CITY — An above-average snowfall and Utah's second-wettest spring will not delay the bustle as the farmers market season kicks off this Saturday, say city leaders and farmers alike.
“This year has been horrible," said local farmer Chad Midgley, who has been selling produce at the market from its start. He noted that one of his properties flooded and the other one "had a lot of snails and things."
The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City reported 11.19 inches of rain fell on the Beehive State this spring, and this is the first time since record keeping started in 1874 that saw three consecutive months with three or more inches of rain.
But despite the soggy start, Midgley said he's expecting a bountiful harvest.
Midgley and his mother, Susie Midgley, who sells organic eggs from her free-range chicken farm at the market, were among the farmers who showed off their wares Wednesday as they joined city leaders to promote the Downtown Farmers Market ahead of this weekend's opening.
Standing in front of a table of fresh produce at Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called the Downtown Farmers Market "an anchor of summer."
Each year, she said "the farmers market gets bigger, better and more sustainable thanks to the partnerships that we have."
Those partnerships, said Urban Food Connections Executive Director Alison Einerson, include Select Health and Intermountain LDS Hospital, which have helped the market provide vendors and patrons with reusable bags.
She said the market will also "be working with Wasatch Resource Recovery and its new anaerobic digester in North Salt Lake so that we will be keeping a lot of food waste out of the landfill."
Einerson noted the waste fed into the digester will be turned into natural gas and fertilizers.
Biskupski said the market has been "instrumental in the revitalization" of Pioneer Park, noting that improvement projects underway are close to completion.
"The fences you see behind us will be coming down in August," she explained.
The chance to sell their produce downtown has become an important opportunity for Utah farmers in a time when the industry is changing.
Chad Midgley said permaculture — the use of year-round greenhouses and diversification on multiple properties — has allowed him to thrive despite a difficult season.
He said having land in different locations in the state is “kind of like an insurance policy” for various crop impacts, such as bugs and flooding. While an issue might come up on one property, it won't influence all his crops, he said.
Chad Midgley said he has been able to acquire the land, in large part, thanks to profits from the farmers market. His parents had both been farmers, but as a kid, he said, he did not feel drawn to farm life.
He said his career as a farmer started by "playing around outside."
“He just had a knack for it, he started out with tomatoes and they did well," Susie Midgley said of her son.
“He’s always been a hard worker. He gets up early and he’s just really done well. We are so proud of him,” she added.
Chad Midgley started out 23 years ago with a roadside stand. He would sell the tomatoes and squash he'd grown on his parent's land.
Since than he's purchased four pieces of land outright and grows a variety of produce including oranges and peaches year-round.
Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance noted that initiatives such as the Downtown Farmers Market have allowed the state to set itself apart from a nationwide decrease in farms.
"As the son of two parents who grew up on farms, I’m grateful to say that in Utah it’s a bit of a different story" he said.
Miller noted that although the nation lost 67,000 farms and 14.3 million acres of farmland since 2012, Utah has gained 382 farmers in that period.
He said most of these are small urban farms producing organic products.
One of those new farms belongs to Jared Hankins, owner of Hand Sown Homegrown.
Hankins, the first in his family to become a farmer, began in the industry after a successful career as a sound engineer. He is proof that not all farmers are family bred.
"I was travelling a lot on the road, I was mixing bands all over the U.S., Europe and Australia," he said, noting that food on the road was often processed and not healthy.
His desire for a healthier lifestyle lead him to seek a farming internship in Seattle in 2006. He moved back to his hometown in West Jordan in 2013, and has been farming and selling produce at the market ever since.
When asked how farming compares to life as an audio engineer, he pointed to a large bowl of lettuce heads, saying, "these guys don't have any egos."
The Downtown Farmers Market will open at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and will return each Saturday through October.