By Nidia Gonzalez

If you’ve had a chance to visit downtown Phoenix on Saturday mornings over the past few years, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of a large outdoor market with food trucks and vendors selling anything from local produce, meats and prepared foods, to beautiful, one-of-a-kind artisan pieces. This is the Phoenix Public Market.

‘Treasure Hunt’ Shopping Experience
It’s early Saturday morning, you and your family are strolling through a lively open air market, and you aren’t sure what you’re looking for yet. You’re here on an exploratory food journey, maybe you’ll dine at the Café or eat at a food truck – or talk to the local growers and learn what exciting fruits and vegetables are in season. As you stroll through the market aisles, you’re greeted by a local farmer. As you approach his booth, you notice a vegetable you are not familiar with and, as if he were a mind reader, he quickly tells you that it’s fennel. He proceeds to share his favorite fennel recipe with you (roasted fennel with parmesan cheese) and shares all the great health benefits associated with this mysterious new vegetable.

You may think that this is something you can only experience at huge farmers markets in places like Seattle, but in fact this is a common experience for anyone attending the Phoenix Public Market on a typical Saturday morning.

Rain or shine, open year-round
The market, located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine – even in the summer (but closes at noon, May through September). This market supplies ingredients to local restaurants and promotes a thriving local economy through their small business support. Additionally, many have found it to be a gathering place for the community where local artists and community partners are able to share their crafts and ideas, adding beauty to our already gorgeous city.

Focus on community, promote small business growth
The market was founded in 2005, starting with only 14 vendors. Fast forward to 2018 and it has grown to more than 80 vendors with a continuous demand for more. Even with its success over the years, the market’s purpose has remained constant: To keep focus on uplifting the local community through a variety of assistance programs, continuously promote small business growth by providing a platform for up-and-coming farmers, and provide a stage for local artists to showcase their creations to the community.

New partnership with Arizona Federal
It’s because of these shared values that Arizona Federal is happy to establish a new partnership with the Phoenix Public Market. Through this partnership we aim to direct focus toward promoting local small businesses that contribute to a thriving community by creating local jobs and stimulating local economic growth.

In addition to sharing our passion for uplifting our local communities, Arizona Federal shares the same love for food! Now you’ll find us once a month at the market at our new booth, sharing the benefits of banking local, and occasionally featuring local restaurants, food suppliers and artists!

Insider Look at the Phoenix Public Market
We had an opportunity to sit with Sara Matlin, the Phoenix Public Market manager, to learn more about the market and various efforts in supporting our local community.

Financially Empowered: What does this partnership with Arizona Federal mean for the Phoenix Public Market?
Sara: What we represent and are passionate about at the Phoenix Public Market is the idea of  promoting our local economy. We believe in the people’s power to choose to spend their dollars locally. This is why we see our partnership with Arizona Federal Credit Union as so valuable. In addition to promoting the importance of banking locally, we share the message and mission in supporting our local economy. By working, banking and spending locally, we ensure that your dollars remain in the community, which strengthens our community’s economic sustainability.

FE: Describe the general feel of the market.
Sara: Farmers markets are generally very exciting places to shop and experience new things. We are centrally located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, which allows community members, local restaurants and chefs easy access to our vendors, while adding plenty of different flavors and diversity. Most importantly, we create a feeling of community among all vendors and shoppers. We often have vendors source the ingredients for their products within the market. Although our open air market currently hosts 80 vendors, the cozy feeling of a close-knit community remains. We encourage everyone to wander through the aisles, discover new and exciting ingredients, and ask produce growers for tips on proper storage and new ways to prepare seasonal fruits and vegetables.

FE: How does the market contribute to the community?
Sara: There are several ways. One of the most notable is small business growth efforts by creating a platform for up-and-coming businesses that may have never sold to the public before. We connect our vendors with new business resources and give them access to hundreds of shoppers every Saturday morning. We have witnessed our vendors grow into brick and mortar shops and continue to apply all their learnings on a larger scale.

Workshops
We bring in community partners, people who are doing wonderful things around the Valley, and provide them with a platform to share their message through workshops or recruiting efforts.

Cooking Presentations
We work with community organizations like Careers through the Culinary Arts Program to host cooking presentations featuring local chefs and high school students. They provide market patrons fresh and easy cooking demonstrations using ingredients found at the market. They also provide high school students with valuable culinary skills, allowing them to enter the culinary world right away without having to start at the bottom.

Assistance Programs
We work with different assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children), allowing shoppers to use their benefits toward fresh fruits and vegetables for their families. Through a grant program known as Double Up Arizona, shoppers’ SNAP dollars are matched up to $20 per week, allowing them to purchase more fruits and vegetables for their families. We are one of the only markets that will occasionally have WIC present on site to print and distribute up to $90 in checks to families who qualify for the program. These dollars are able to be spent directly at the market, not only helping qualified families with healthy food options, but also helping our local economy by ensuring these dollars go straight to local growers.

FE: Is there a selection process for vendors who wish to participate in the market?
Sara: Yes, we get so many requests from really amazing vendors wishing to participate in the market. But, due to limited space, we have to find a balance between healthy competition and oversaturation. All of our vendors must go through an application, interview and tasting process before they can set up at the market. Although we do support artisan and craftsmen at our market, we primarily focus on food vendors, specifically those who use local ingredients. Vendors who use 50 percent or more locally-sourced ingredients can be awarded a Phoenix Public Market Badge. We recognize the extra time, steps and cost that go into using local ingredients, so we want people to easily identify vendors who are making those efforts.

FE: How do you envision the market growing over the years?
Sara: We are constantly hosting events as a way to bring the community and our vendors together. We are exploring the possibility of expanding our market or possibly opening additional markets outside of our downtown location. However, with any of our growth plans, we will always make supporting our vendors a priority.

FE: What are some ways the community can get involved with the market?
Sara: Visiting and shopping at the market is the greatest way to show support. Where consumers choose to spend their dollars speaks loudly about who and what they support. There are also volunteer opportunities at the market every Saturday morning, helping with such tasks as setup. Although our growers are multi-talented human beings with the amazing power to grow and maintain crops in the desert all while building a business – they are happy to have some extra help! You can speak to the vendors at the market about volunteer opportunities with them.

FE: What’s a must-try when someone visits the market?
Sara: Challenging yourself to eat seasonally. There’s so much excitement in thinking seasonally and being open-minded to try a variety of different fruits and vegetables. Come and get excited with us about the upcoming citrus season or when cherries and peaches finally make an appearance!

Arizona Federal is excited to continue to develop its partnership with the Phoenix Public Market. With our emphasis on local first, you’re sure to see more of Arizona Federal in the community, and be sure to visit our booth at the market on Saturday mornings!

Your turn: Tell us your favorite thing about shopping at the market – leave a comment below.