Before waxy, tasteless tomatoes, wilted greens and rock-hard peaches became standard supermarket fare, small farms across the country turned out fresh, seasonal produce, ripe with the taste of the sun and the earth.
On Saturday, that taste is coming to Oro Valley.
Starting Oct. 4, the Oro Valley Farmer's Market opens for business from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday in the courtyard at Town Hall, just south of Naranja Drive at 11000 N. La Canada Drive.
"Oro Valley's going to be great," said market coordinator Manish Shah, who also manages the Sunday farmer's market at St. Philip's Plaza in Tucson. He promises plenty of farm-fresh produce, organic honey, home-baked goods, spiced nuts, salsas and tamales, gourmet coffee and teas, cactus and other specialty items.
"Produce drives the market," he said. "We hope to support independent growers and give them an opportunity to sell their product."
Queen Valley grower Jesse Fussell, whose plump eggplants, colorful peppers, juicy strawberries and other chemical-free fruit and vegetables inspire crowds of customers to stand in line in the heat at St. Philip's, said he hopes to be a regular at the Oro Valley market.
In summer, Steve and Mounty Brown, of La Oesta Gardens, offer pesticide-free peppers, beans, squash, eggplant, tomatoes and cucumber, plus organic produce from Tubac-based Agua Linda Farm and other goods from La Bella and Apple Annie farms in Willcox. In winter, they'll have salad mixes, spinach, Asian greens, broccoli, radishes, scallions, beets and turnips.
Tom Richardson's 17-acre RichCrest Farms in Dragoon specialize in organic produce, and capture the harvest in his Vinaigretta line of grapeseed oils, hot-pepper vinegars, salsas and relishes.
For health seekers, crushed prickly pear fruit may be just the ticket. Retired Marana schoolteacher Kay Edwards swears by the Arizona Cactus Ranch brand of sugar-free nectar and spreads, started by friend and owner Natalie McGee.
"We sell nationwide all we can make," she said. "This year's harvest was 30,000 pounds."
Edwards said the pulp, which has a "beautiful red color and tastes like watermelon," helps lower high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, balance blood sugar and fight infection.
"We have hundreds of repeat customers and they tell us it's really helping," she said.
The wild fruit is gathered on the McGee Ranch near Green Valley from mid-August through September, processed to remove the rind, thorns and seeds and heated to 180 degrees F to prevent E. Coli.
The stuff's not cheap. A 32-ounce bottle of the nectar is $39 (a five-month supply); Jalapeno spreads and fruit salsas are $11.
Northwest residents Jack and Valerie Smith have been selling their Jack and the Bean Soup mixes for 12 years at local markets, offering a selection of homely and exotic dry beans spiced with a secret recipe (flavorful, not hot!)
"We try to find unique and different beans, especially Southwestern beans," said Valerie. The line includes brown and white Tepary beans, Anasazi, Adzuki, Rattlesnake beans, Tiger Eye and Moqui Mix (11 beans), all crockpot ready. A one-pound bag makes 6 to 8 servings for $7.
Mindy Stickney created her Miracle Munchies line of wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free baked goods and dry mixes because each of her three sons had a different food allergy (wheat, corn or dairy).
"I tried the wheat-free cookbooks, the result wasn't great," she said. The turning point came when she had to bake something for one of her son's school projects. She invented Colton's spice cake, a wheat- and dairy-free confection of cinnamon, apple, oats and barley that left the teacher "licking the pan," she said.
Other delectables include Remington's raspberry rage jumbo muffins and Kameron's vegan twisted krunch, a hot and spicy brittle made of cashews, molasses, organic evaporated cane juice and brown rice syrup.
The Village Bakehouse will also be on hand, offering its superb artisan breads, croissants, muffins, cookies and other goodies.
"Herb lady" Lynne Costello said she hope to be at the new market every Saturday. The Oro Valley resident specializes in herbs and dried spices, including her new "Dinner at Eight" recipe book complete with seasonings. She also carries herbal teas and brownie and cornbread mixes.
Coffee roasters Ron and Micki Rose of Wilde Rose Coffee Company will have ground and whole beans (including organic varieties), plus brewed and iced coffee and mochas.
At the couple's Old Town Artisans shop, "We roast the coffee in an antique Deidrich roaster," said Ron. "We use sight, smell, and sound, totally give up technology."
Market manager Shah, whose Maya Tea Company customers include Tohono Chul Park, Café Terra Cotta, Epic Café and Wild Oats, said the idea of a market in Oro Valley evolved because he wanted another venue to sell his hand-blended teas.
"I went out to Oro Valley, and saw families riding bikes to the library, people walking - it had a small town feel," he said. "I thought we'd get a good response. The Town Hall facility sealed the deal."
The Town Council approved the site Aug. 20.
Shah was director of marketing for the merchants association at St. Philip's Plaza and ran its Friday farmer's market in the early 1990s before starting his tea business.
"My Chai" was his first product. "Chai was getting hip, I'd been making it for friends," he said. Three years later, he started his company.
Also coming to Oro Valley is Tony Peyron, who's been serving mango drinks, tamales, fruit empanadas, fresh salsas and pico de guyo at St. Philip's Plaza for five years, and Marcos Bustamonte, a purchasing agent at Canyon Ranch. He started his Mountain Canyon Gourmet line of Lime-Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Garlic and Salted peanuts and almonds with a special recipe brought back from Florida by a friend in the early 1990s.
Another St. Philip's regular who plans to hit Oro Valley is Joe Frawley, who owns the Enchanted Hills Cactus Nursery in Picture Rocks.
"Everybody starts with roses and then eventually goes to cactus," he said.
Frawley sells mostly South American varieties like the crinkly, blue-green "curiosity cactus," a mutated relative of Cereus, also a summer night-bloomer.
"It grows to 10 feet," he said. "It does great out here."
For the patio and indoors, he offers succulents. "Succulents do well indoors and can tolerate lower light conditions. They are nice low-water plants, ideal for our climate out here."
Specialty items will include clean burning soy wax candles and naturally fragranced soaps from Graham and Lynda Sorenson of Luna Aromatics and a unique line of emu oil skin products from Arizona Outback Emu Oil Co.
"Emu oil is a natural moisturizer and conditioner," said Lance Talley who, with wife Jackie, raises the big birds at the Twin Feathers Emu Ranch in Benson.
Music will be a regular feature of the market, with Larry Mason playing Spanish Flamenco guitar for the opening this Saturday.
The farmer's market will offer 10 percent of its table space to nonprofit organizations like the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, which will hand out its calendar of events on Saturday and sell tickets to the Oro Valley Jazz Festival and Artisans Market scheduled for Oct. 25-26 at CDO Riverfront Park.
"I think it's a wonderful addition to activities taking place in Oro Valley," said Carmen Feriend, GOVAC's executive director. "We hope it's a big success."