RB: To you, what are sustainable foods?
LB: Sustainable foods are produced in a way that can continue. For instance, the way they are grown and distributed doesn’t detract from the environment.
Preferably, they’re grown and distributed locally, and don’t involve a lot of travel, keeping the products fresher. Lastly, sustainable foods enable the local community to benefit from its local agriculture.
RB: How do you promote sustainability as a farmers’ market coordinator?
LB: Our market provides a location for local farmers and other persons in the community to purchase locally-produced food. Also important is the community aspect, as this market provides a location for people in the Vail area to meet one another.
RB: On a scale from one to ten, what would you score the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market in terms of providing sustainable foods to the local community?
LB: I would give us a six. We’re able to consistently have farmers, but there’s obviously room for growth, and in particular, with trying to incorporate backyard growers and smaller-scale gardeners. It’s something I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t been able to expand into just yet. So, while I definitely see that we have room for improvement, I also think we have a good base to start from.
RB: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your position as the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market Coordinator?
LB: The whole idea of the backyard grower and small-scale gardener program has been something that I’ve wanted to expand. But, I haven’t had the volunteers, the staff, or the capability to do that.
RB: What do you think you could do to find more volunteers? Or, what have you tried in the past that seemed to work?
LB: It’s been easy to get volunteers for, like, a one-day event, but, when it comes to the long-term volunteers that you can depend on to be there every Saturday, it’s been much more difficult. I know that there are resources like volunteer listings and databases, but, that hasn’t been a focus we’ve been able to take on yet.
RB: What initially attracted you to Rincon Valley’s market coordinator position?
LB: Our specific market is a project of a non-profit called Rincon Institute, a land-conservation organization. When people drive out here to the market, they see the beautiful open-spaces that the people of this area are so fortunate to still have. Those natural spaces are the primary reason that I was attracted to this job. Also, I was drawn to the market position because it was part of a project through the Rincon Institute, and I know that organization values preserving the beautiful spaces as I do. I value it because I’ve grown up in Vail, and I’ve seen, even in just the last 20 years, how drastically Vail has changed. And that, I would say, is what attracted me to this kind of position with the Rincon Institute. Since growing up out here, I’ve always valued the space, and I just really wanted to work to protect that. It’s what’s kept me trying.
RB: There are at least 12 other farmers’ markets that go on in the Tucson area every week. What sets your market apart from the rest?
LB: We have two things that other farmers’ markets don’t have: a uniquely beautiful location and a significant representation of local artisans. As far as the location goes, being on a scenic route, on the way to Colossal Cave Park, it’s wonderful in and of itself just to take a drive out and see, if you’re not fortunate enough to live in the area, how blessed we are by our local environment. We also blessed with the landscaped grounds of the Desert Nursery Plant Rescue, who left behind the framework of a beautiful area where people can go and sit. Also, our farmers’ market is one of the few that also has local artisans, so it’s not just providing the local food, but a place where the local artisans can produce their items. These two things together give the person who comes here a one-of-a-kind shopping experience that you can’t find at any of the other farmers’ market. When you consider the setting and the market, we’re a beautiful example of what the Rincon Institute has been working to protect.
RB: What’s your story?
LB: I was fortunate to grow up in Vail, not very far from the back of Colossal Cave Park. We were in a very rural area, and we were able to enjoy the natural beauty while hiking the multitude of rocks and geology that we have out here.
I moved into town to go to the U of A. I studied political science, with a minor in business administration and English. I then worked with an advertising firm downtown, which gave me more experience with the advertising in public outreach, and that’s what prepared me with the skill that I needed to take on this position, along with the business management background, as well.
RB: How long have you been at the helm of the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market?
LB: It’ll be four years in September.
RB: What changes have you seen in the course of the last four years since you’ve been market coordinator?
LB: The last four years, economy-wise, have been very difficult. And, while I’m happy to say that the market is still thriving, and we haven’t shut down, I’m also very sad to say that, it’s been difficult, especially since our parent organization, the Rincon Institute, has suffered severe cutbacks. So, now, basically the Market is the primary program that the Rincon Institute has been able to continue, which was not the case when I first took the position. While our program has always been the most visible, originally, it was more of a supplemental program. It’s been a big change, and we’re still adapting to that change. We’re always trying to adapt to the economy and also to the huge growth of interest in local food. For instance, more recently, there are a lot more farmers’ markets. That’s a challenge, because we’re not exactly the most centrally located, but, I think we continue because we have a part to play for the Vail community. For the people that live out here, we’re the closest, and we’re one of the main places a person can go to see their neighbors. Around here, a person can meet people at the mailbox, or, go to the farmers’ market and visit their neighbors. And, even though there’s now a handful of stores in central Vail, the community remains primarily rural, and so this market continues to be a place where you can both see your neighbors and shop.
RB: If you could re-emphasize anything to the people reading this interview, or touch upon something that hasn’t yet been mentioned, what would you say?
LB: I just want to re-emphasize that this market is the project of a non-profit, and that what we’re really trying to do is educate people about the importance of conserving the open space, as well as conserving our community and our character.
RB: Does that mean that all the proceeds from the fruit and vegetable vendors, as well as the proceeds from what the artisans bring in, all go to the Rincon Institute?
LB: The Rincon Institute is the name of our non-profit, and all of our funds go back into the non-profit. But, at this point, The Rincon Institute and The Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market are, because of the cutbacks, essentially the same thing right now.
RB: So, none of these funds go into Farmer Joe’s pocket? Farmer Joe donates all the funds to The Rincon Institute?
LB: We’re a fee-based organization. So, all the vendors pay a fee. The farmers do make a profit off of what they sell, but that’s also very important, because we at the Rincon Institute want to preserve the farmers and their land. It’s not that it’s necessarily urgent right now, since the housing boom—the bubble—has burst, but, it’s still very important to retain the farmers that we do have, to strengthen them, so that, if land prices do happen to go back up they’re not going to be so tempted to sell their property and turn it into another row of tract houses. We really want to strengthen and keep the local farmers producing the local foods and stay on their land. The value of being able to eat things grown in Arizona is really important. We don’t want to lose that.
RB: How does the Rincon Institute influence the stability of the farmer? What do they do that helps the farmer push through and stick around?
LB: We help the farmer by providing a place where they can sell their items. Also, we assist them by maintaining the location and doing the advertising to keep the community coming and ensure that people know that the farmers’ market is here.
RB: Where do the farmers that sell here at the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market come from?
LB: Many of our farmers here are from Willcox. During the cooler times of the year, we also have a vendor that’s from around Benson. But, with the summer, many folks take a break, so we have less vendors now than we do during the cooler months. But, that’s why I want to begin looking into the backyard gardeners, begin to tap into that, and get more variety. With more manpower, more volunteers, I think that’s possible.