More than just a veggie fest

By By Adam Fifield and By Adam Fifield

By Adam Fifield

It might surprise you that the fresh, locally grown produce sold each Saturday at the Downtown Farmers’ Market could end up on a restaurant menu — But head chef Jerry Liedtke, whose restaurant is located conveniently across the street from Pioneer Park, attends the market every Saturday looking for inspiration to add to his menu.

“I get a lot of ideas locally,” Liedtke said.

The market exposes Utah’s more exotic offerings — take, for instance, the booth selling products made from goat milk, next to some organic farmers vending parsnips and fresh herbs. Other booths sell pastries, carne asada and coffees.

Growers hail from as far as southern Utah to as close as a few blocks away, but the most surprising growers are escorted from the Salt Lake County Metro Jail.

Dressed in blue prison garb, prisoner Jeremy Reedy called out bargain prices for cucumbers and squash that he helped grow on a three-acre lot within the jail grounds.

“Now I got a green thumb,” said Reedy, who has four months left on his sentence and a big backyard waiting at home for him.

“Everything’s organic, so prisoners have to learn how to scrape bugs off the plants,” said Sgt. Raelene Eppard, who runs the gardening program.

The prisoners have learned a multitude of organic gardening techniques, such as dusting tomatoes with flour, using fish emollient and worm casting.

The garden is part of the jail’s Treatment and Education Unit, and its goal — as described in their newsletter, “The Road to Re-Entry” — is “finding ways to help incarcerated persons obtain education, treatment and skills needed for a successful life outside of jail.”

Prisoners are also certified by Utah State University through the Salt Lake County Master Gardeners program, Eppard said. Her purpose for attending the Farmers’ Market is to make the project self-funding, and she’ll be back for the rest of the season.

Undeniably, a visit to the market hardly compares to a visit to the grocery store.

The many arts and crafts booths, as well as the several live musical performances dispersed throughout the park, cater to both aesthetic and corporeal appetites.

The festival atmosphere attracts many of downtown Salt Lake City’s street musicians, and the Downtown Alliance, which hosts the market, features a musical artist every week. Last week’s headlining act was Vapor Trails, a local folk-acoustic group that plays the festival circuit when its members aren’t practicing law.

Other musicians on hand last week performed for tips, sitting cross-legged on the grass nodding to passers-by who tossed money into their hat, can or open guitar case. The array of cellists, guitarists and dobroists transformed the overall feel of Pioneer Park into something more like Washington Square in Manhattan.

Visitors to the market last weekend witnessed chef Liedtke’s culinary prowess up-front and personal, with all the aromas of beef duxelle permeating throughout the park.

As a promotion for the Downtown Alliance’s upcoming Dine O’Round, Liedtke and two other local chefs — who also tout their allegiance to locally grown products — faced off for the second annual Chef Showdown. Contestants were given an hour and $60 to purchase all the food they needed from the market, and then they had another hour to prepare an appetizer, main entre and dessert.

“It’s the tomato time of the year,” said Brandon Janish, head chef of the Broadway Bistro, who took his inspiration from the most ripe and seasonal fruits and vegetables — he used everything from plump tomatoes to scallops and pineapple mint, all purchased at the multiple vendors surrounding his cooking station.

Janish’s entre selection provided another example that the Farmers’ Market doesn’t just supply peaches and vegetarian fare — his entre featured a plump lamb T-bone with gold and baby carrots.

“All of the chefs were very creative in menu selection,” said Andrew Wallace, one of the judges for the showdown and a committee member of the Downtown Alliance.

“I’m praying I get to do this again next year,” he said.

After all the dust had settled, the judges crowned Broadway Bistro’s chef Branden Janish as the new best chef, usurping last year’s reigning king, Ian Brandt of Sage’s Caf. The coveted title will undoubtedly help Janish’s restaurant, which is only a few months old, become a cornerstone in Salt Lake’s dining scene.

So, whether you’re looking to help a convict on the road to recovery, or looking to get the edge on local musicians, artists, artisans and growers, the Farmers’ Market is the place to be. Just remember to act fast — the market runs through October, after which the days of aisle-to-aisle everyday grocery shopping begins.

And that’s definitely nothing to look forward to.

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Liz Rohde

Each Saturday morning local artist Zach Parrish performs the guitar, the harmonica and his blue grass vocals at the farmers market in pioneer park.