By Abel Muñiz Jr.
Special to Green Right Now

In this day and age, big corporately owned stores rule the grocery industry in America. Local shops, though, still have one advantage: They can form closer relationships with their customers and offer specialty products, like organic produce, artisan breads and locally raised, hormone-free meat.

The Tempe Farmers Market keeps close ties with customers. (Photo: Abel Muñiz Jr.)

Recent statistics show that Americans are buying more organic food. The USDA released a report last year indicating that sales of local foods were $4.8 billion in 2008. The amount was about four times what had been predicted. The USDA also forecast that the sale of local food will generate $7 billion for last year. According to a report done by the OTA (Organic Trade Association) 78% of U.S. families are buying at least some organic products.

Even though the US economy is going through hard times, forcing many businesses to close and shrinking consumers’ buying power, some small organic food shops may have found a way to hold on. By offering specialty products in a friendly environment, they are able to build relationships with their customers.  The Tempe Farmers Market located in downtown Tempe, AZ is an example of this.

Daryle Dutton realized his vision of a market that can support local vendors and customers in Oct. 2009. But he still faced challenges, which included renovating the building. He did much of the work himself, hiring professionals only when necessary. Then he filled the shelves with groceries and built relationships within the neighborhood to get more produce.

Today, the market features a long list of locally grown and crafted foods, from tamales and veggie burgers to pickles and cheesecakes.

The offerings and the customers continue to grow, says general manager Angie Dutton, thanks to the strong connection between the market, the community and the vendors.

Angie says that the goal of the market is to support sustainability and that is why the Duttons source produce from local farmers and gardeners to help each other, but most importantly, to bring a variety of products to the customer. Having a variety of products that big stores might not carry helps customers who have special diets requiring only gluten-free food, or who are lactose intolerant.

Also, by providing a more friendly, one-on-one service to their clients they create this small town feeling that people like. It makes them come back and be loyal customers, she said.

Customers can get advice about natural foods and diets at the Tempe market. (Photo: Abel Muñiz Jr.)

The market also helps the community by assisting local people. It has donated money to the Parkinson’s walk the last few years, and it held a car wash to raise funds for a local girl who’d been hit by a car. The Duttons have also donated money to the Wilson Street Garden by holding community sales.

On Saturday mornings an outdoor market is held where people can sign up to play music or even come to sell some of their own items. The market also maintains close ties with Arizona State University students by helping them in projects involving sustainability and waste management. Other students come to show their crafts, like belly dancing and massage therapy during the outdoor markets.

Scott Holdcraft, a frequent customer, says he likes the philosophy of the store, that it is privately owned and supports local produce. Even though the Duttons sell organic products, they don’t shove their philosophy on their customers, he says.

When asked why she likes to work for the Tempe Farmers Market, Samantha Schmidt, an assistant manager for two years, said, “I love food!

“And I like small businesses and what they are trying to do for locally grown produce and local businesses…”

  • The Tempe Farmers Market can be found at 805 S. Farmer Ave., Tempe, AZ 85281.

(Abel Muniz is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.)