Have you ever had a stigma about something before actually experiencing it to be true? Such as, “I never hike in Tucson because you WILL die of dehydration and get eaten by a mountain lion or rattle snake, whichever finds you first.” Or maybe, “I never shop at thrift stores because all the clothes are old and ugly and smell bad.” What if the sunshine actually lit your heart and cleared your busy mind on that mountain top? What if the clothes were in fact hidden treasures, simply in need of a good washing? What IF you were wrong, and you had missed out on some great new opportunities and experiences because you thought you ALREADY knew all about them?

Let me tell you, I did that. I thought farmers’ markets seemed like cool places, but for “those” kinds of people. Not people such as myself. Why would someone like me go to a farmers’ market? I suppose you can get veggies, and that’s great, but you can just do that at a grocery store. Right? What’s the importance of a farmers’ market in the community, when a Fry’s or Safeway is on every corner? That’s what I thought, anyway.

Then one surprisingly warm November morning I visited a market. The signage attracted my attention and I went to see if there was anything of interest. Walking up to it, I knew it was something special. Happy, live music echoed around creating a unique market scene. The musician was visible and easily heard, but not to a volume where you could not hear the birds chirp in the trees above. I found delicious local honey, fresh organic produce, and a whole number of other interesting items. Many of the things I found were made or grown directly by the person manning the booth! I talked with a man and his family who explained how they had risen at 5am to pick freshly for the market, that day. He then hauled his entire harvest into town to the site of the market, where he sets up his beautiful display on a large table. This included kale, spinach, carrots, apples, onions, cucumbers, and a bevy of others I had not often seen before at the grocery stores. Hmmmm. This is pretty cool, I thought. This man grew my food! I know EXACTLY where my food came from. I was thrilled to find a direct source, as I am a person who worries quite a lot about what happens to food, before it decorates my plate. There is so much information available today that it’s extremely wise to be skeptical. The personal effort he went through, to provide me with these FRESH, LOCAL fruits and vegetables inspired me. I thought I really needed to support him. He deserves my money more than a giant corporation. It will directly affect him and his family, in the same way it has affected my life.

I walked around and found even more products to be excited about. Such as Yellow Brick Coffee, a local roaster, or Jeff’s Light’s Out Candle Company, made of 100% soy and naturally derived scents. I found a multitude of cactus varieties from Picture Rocks Cactus Nursery. Homemade hummus and pita bread from Mediterranean Delight. (The fluffiest, most healthy pita bread I have ever eaten.) I found family operated, certified organic farms selling mushrooms and sweet potatoes. Fresh bunches of organic kale or collard greens, handed to you by the woman who grew it. Super nutrient packed “Rescue Nuggets”- a tasty, innovative twist to those nonsense filler filled energy bars you find at the stores. The more I looked around, the more I understood the true idea of farmers’ market. These were lovely, friendly, decent people working their butts off to provide me with better, local, REAL, organic, healthy food products! It was a beautiful tribute to the days when you DID know your farmer.

I began shopping at the Sunday, Santa Fe Square market weekly, and found I could get the things I needed faster, fresher, of better quality, and often cheaper than if I shopped in any store. I felt as if I was in an exotic country, shopping, outside in the sunshine, shaking hands and laughing with the farmer who grew my food. I knew then, that I had to be a part of it! I had to try to spread the magic, the health, the truth.

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So, here I am. My name is Ashton, and I am a new fan of farmers’ markets. I like to eat well and be knowledgeable and conscious about what I consume. I hope to write weekly and take a journey of discovery as I visit farms, try recipes, meet vendors, and share interesting stories with you.  Introducing one person to the love I’ve found will be enough. Spending an afternoon at a weekend market has become something I look forward to. It is a place where I gather friends and expose them to the communal healthy thriving goodness of these markets. Each of them sharing in the excitement and developing their own personal farmers’ market romance. I want people to be aware that they can get real, healthy, natural, organic, raw, vegan, products for themselves and their families. I want people to know what they eat. To feel happy and content and discover that healthy is more than just better for you, it is delicious, fun, invigorating and energizing.

Have you ever bitten into a fresh ripe peach in the heat of summer? Ever went for a bike ride after eating a whole burrito filled with beans, potatoes, veggies and rice? If not, then try it! I invite you to discover new tastes, new experiences. Don’t let it be something you COULD have done, but didn’t because you THOUGHT you’d been there, done that. Come and find something worth discovering!