A customer shops at the Moab Farmers’ Market last June. The Southeastern Utah District Health Department will be sponsoring this year's farmers' market, which is scheduled to begin in mid-April. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Fresh fruits and veggies will still be on the menu when the Moab Farmers’ Market opens for business this spring at Swanny City Park.

But the event’s new sponsor also wants it to serve as a marketplace of ideas and a hub of entrepreneurship that supports Moab’s growing “cottage food” industry of home-based cooks.

The Southeastern Utah District Health Department is taking over the event with the hope that it can promote healthy lifestyles, while supporting local agriculture and new businesses.

Orion Rogers, who works as the department’s local environmental health scientist, said his agency stepped in after he found out that the Youth Garden Project would no longer oversee the event.

This year’s farmers’ market season is set to begin on Thursday, April 16, and Rogers recently gave the Moab City Council a preview of the changes that await shoppers.

As he envisions it, the market will include an educational forum that supports diverse viewpoints.

Food safety is one obvious topic that may come up in the future: Rogers joked that he has horror stories to share with the public. But he said he envisions the event as a much broader forum where speakers can talk about regional air quality, solar power, residential greywater systems and other issues that have been in the news lately.

“I’m open to having anybody who wants to come talk about educational things,” Rogers said during the council’s Feb. 10 meeting.

People who may have differing opinions will be welcome, he said:

“I want it to be neutral ground.”

Efforts to promote Moab’s burgeoning “cottage food” scene are another focus.

As its name suggests, the term refers to foods that cooks prepare from the comfort of their own kitchens, instead of commercial facilities.

The home-grown industry has taken off in the last few years, and there are now more than 200 documented “cottage food” facilities in the state, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Interest among Moab residents is especially strong, according to Roberts, and some of those people could potentially sell their homemade goods at events like the farmers’ market.

“But in order to do that legally, you have to have a permit through the (Utah) Department of Agriculture,” he said.

As one way to streamline that process, Rogers will be hosting a noon “meet and greet” on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at the health department, which is located at 575 S. Kane Creek Blvd. From 1 to 4 p.m. that afternoon, Utah Cottage Food Production Program Manager Rebecca Nielson will be available to help residents understand how they can get started.

Moab City Councilman Kyle Bailey said he’s hopeful that farmers’ market vendors can use their experiences at the venue as an incubator to start their own businesses.

“I’m glad that you have the enthusiasm to start this and do something outside of the box,” he added.

Rogers said he welcomes that kind of outcome.

“I think that would be great,” he said. “If they do it right, and if they produce their food properly, they wouldn’t just be able to sell it at the farmer’s market. They could even sell it at, I think, the ‘proper’ markets.”

Moab City Council members Kirstin Peterson and Gregg Stucki praised Rogers’ overall vision of the farmers’ market’s future.

“I like the idea of this … of the educational component … but also, I think that this really does serve as a community event on a regular basis, (and) it fosters entrepreneurship,” Peterson said.

“(It’s) brave, and I commend you for taking this on, because you are kind of taking this to a new level,” Stucki said.

However, Stucki parted ways with the council’s four other members when the time came to vote on Rogers’ request to waive up to $875 in fees for the use of Swanny City Park.

Instead of waiving the fee, he said, he would prefer to look for some other way to help out.

For more information about the Moab Farmers’ Market, contact Orion Rogers at 435-259-5602, or email orogers@utah.gov. To see a complete schedule of the 2015 season, go to the farmers’ market’s Facebook page at facebook.com/moabfarmersmarket.

Vision promotes “cottage food” industry, education

(It’s) brave, and I commend you for taking this on, because you are kind of taking this to a new level.