A man shops at the Castle Valley Farms stand at the Moab Farmers’ Market, Thursday evening, June 5. This is Castle Valley Farms’ second year at the market. They sell many kinds of produce, but the tomatoes are their top item. [Photo by Bethany Blitz / Moab Sun News]

Six months out of the year, farmers and artists gather at Swanny City Park every week to sell their goods. They arrive at about 5 p.m. with tents and coolers in tow. The evening sun casts a golden glow onto the park while locals and tourists alike browse the booths. The scent of fresh tomatoes, herbs and prepared foods fill the air. The Moab Farmers’ Market offers a wide variety of produce, homemade butters, jams, meat, dairy products, flowers and artwork. There are even knife-sharpening services and chair massages and local musicians and dance groups for entertainment.

The market began as a small gathering of local farmers and artists selling their produce and art in a parking lot off of Main Street every Saturday morning. As the market grew and became more popular, it began looking for a new location. In 2002, the market moved to the park with the help of the Youth Garden Project (YGP).

“The Youth Garden Project took over management because the market had grown and, in its new location, needed help acquiring permits and obtaining liability insurance,” market manager Jeremy Lynch said.

Now, the Moab Farmers’ Market is every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. It hosts 28 registered vendors and has space for 25 drop-in vendors. Everything sold at the market is produced within 150 miles of Moab. Some vendors come from as far as Grand Junction, Colo., and others are situated in the heart of the Moab valley.

“Personally, my favorite part of the market is the sense of community that is created there,” YGP executive director Delite Primus said. “Individuals gather together and are excited about what other people in our community are growing and creating.”

There are more logistics that go into the Farmer’ Market than one might think. The YGP applies for permits and business licenses, facilitates vendor registration, recruits and schedules entertainment, and is responsible for advertising. Each vendor pays a registration fee and 15 percent of its weekly sales to the market to help pay for such costs.

The YGP is always striving to improve the farmers’ market and make it a fun and friendly place for the whole community.

“Our focus this year, and here on forward, is on building a larger patron base,” Lynch said. “Ultimately, this is with the hope that a stronger base, involving locals and even tourists, will foster the sustainability of local producers.”

Starting Thursday, June 12, The Moab Farmer’s Market will be accepting SNAP Benefits. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, “offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Starting this year, the USDA is offering to cover initial fees and provide the basic infrastructure, such as a smart phone and receipt printer, for the first two years for any established farmers’ markets that wants to start accepting SNAP Benefits.

At the Moab Farmers’ Market, patrons with SNAP cards will charge what ever amount they desire to their card at the manager’s booth in exchange for an equivalent amount of Market Money Tokens. These tokens can be spent at any participating vendors’ booths. At the end of the day, these vendors exchange the tokens for payment.

“A move like this can ‘normalize’ SNAP usage, calling appropriate attention to socioeconomic differences and what they might mean for our community and culture,” Lynch said.

Grand Junction resident Kathryn Bedell has been coming to the Moab Farmers’ Market to sell her meat for two years.

“I’ve been (accepting SNAP payments) in Grand Junction at other farmers’ markets there; I think it’s a good thing,” Bedell said. “There are so many people on food stamps now, they might as well be able to buy food with it.”

Wanita “Grandma” Harris of Castle Valley Farms said it gives people “an opportunity they didn’t have before.”

“It’s important they have good produce,” she said.

The Moab Farmers’ Market runs from May through October and is open to anyone who stops by.

Personally, my favorite part of the market is the sense of community that is created there.”

What: Moab Farmers’ Market – Local produce, meat, dairy, arts, services and entertainment

When: Every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: Swanny City Park

Weekly farmers’ market gathers on Thursday nights at Swanny City Park