Dining

Feeling localish: A guide to Las Vegas farmers’ markets

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Molto Mario’s Farmer’s Market in Las Vegas Thursday, September 16, 2010.
Photo: Leila Navidi
Molly O’Donnell

Is it melodramatic to say that farmers’ markets reaffirm my faith in humanity? As a newcomer to Las Vegas, I’ve been in search of a little community, and, in my experience, farmers’ markets are an obvious place to look. Traditionally, these markets have been the site of conversations across generations, a place for neighbors to catch up with each other while they restock their refrigerators. These days, however, eating is being recognized on a large scale as a political choice, and many people say they frequent farmers’ markets because they want to eat food grown locally and buy it from the people who do the growing. In Southern Nevada, however, how realistic is that goal? I hit a lineup of local farmers’ markets to eat, chat and find out.

Molto Vegas Farmer's Market

Molto Vegas Farmers’ Market (Thursdays, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., 7485 S. Dean Martin Drive, Suite 106.) The Molto Vegas Market has been a foodie’s favorite in town since it opened a year ago, and it’s still the best market for finding more rare epicurean delights like white asparagus or blonde raspberries. In fact, this is where Molto will probably always win out over other markets. Because the produce is primarily for Strip chefs and much of it is brought in from Southern California, some of the things sold here you won’t be able to find anywhere else. That said, local farmers like Gilcrease Orchard (7810 N. Tenaya Way) are in the minority. I never thought about the ethics of trucking food into markets until I moved to a desert where the question almost asks itself. Paul Sacksteder, a friend and frequenter of Mario Batali’s Thursday farmers’ market, has thought about this issue on more than one occasion. “The biggest booth at the Molto market is from California. As I’m buying my basket of mulberries, I wonder if I’m trying to make Vegas something it isn’t and how good that is for the town.”

You can, however, get Gilcrease’s apple cider at Molto every week, and they are as local as they come with a history of 80 years of growing behind them. Plus, the local stands that are there offer everything from dates to tomatoes to coffee and nuts. And the truth is, the idea of eating locally grown foods as a way to live better—more healthfully and environmentally sound—is a relatively new one in the Valley. States like California have had a really long history of farming and have served as the country’s breadbasket before there was even a population in Las Vegas. There’s a reason The Grapes of Wrath isn’t set here, and it’s not just the environment. So, it should come as no surprise to Sacksteder that “local” in Las Vegas sometimes means California. After a recent trip back he (and many like him, judging from the crowd) feels the benefits of “localish” outweigh any early hesitation he may have had. “I bought some beautiful eggs, bright orange carrots, and some pristine morel mushrooms,” he said.

Fresh 52 (Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., 9480 S. Eastern Ave.) It’s hard to argue with fresh produce, and if grocery store food travels an average of 1,494 miles, adding some mileage to the immediate area for locally grown produce is decidedly preferable. I ponder this all-important local factor and ideas of freshness as I pick up a Peento peach at Henderson’s newest market, Fresh 52. As the new kid on the block, this Sunday-morning market has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the food. It seems like one of the larger games in town—with more than two or three participating farms, Fresh 52 has people practically queued up to their cars every weekend.

After I finish my peach, I know why. Shaped like a donut and obviously bred for eatability, Peento peaches are as delicious as they are adorable. With produce, as with the market itself, it’s all about the total experience. In my mind, part of the job of farmers’ markets is to inspire people to try new things. This market did just that.

Gardens Park Farmers’ Market (Tuesday, 4-8 p.m., 10401 Gardens Park Drive.) Then again, some things are best left untested. The $5 avocado at this Tuesday-evening market in Summerlin is one of those things. Granted, it was giant, which is what attracted me to it in the first place, but it was also yellow and sweet on the inside, more suited to pastry filling than anything you’d want to put on a tortilla chip. That said, not all my risks at Gardens Park ended badly. Bon Breads, a local bakery that also has stands in at least two other weekly markets, never lets me down. Their delicious pumpernickels and ciabattas are as scrumptious as their homemade, honey-kissed granola. A man with a big white beard offered me a taste, explaining, “This is the granola on the Bellagio buffet now ... all local.” When I imagine the tourists passing over the granola for eggs Benedict, all I can think is, “What a waste.”

Nevada-grown radish's and thai yellow egg eggplant for sale during Molto Mario's Farmer's Market in Las Vegas Thursday, September 16, 2010.

Henderson Farmers’ Market (Thursday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., 200 S. Water St.) Many of the same vendors from Gardens Park can be found at this downtown Henderson fixture that has apparently changed a bit in the last few years. Tere Rios, Henderson resident and self-confessed farmers’ market junkie, says, “It used to be you felt like you had to fight over a few cucumbers down here. It’s gotten a lot better with more vendors and a greater variety of produce.” While it’s heavier on the craft tables than many other markets, this market also now offers an assortment of produce.

There are a few unforeseen downsides to Vegas’ farmers’ markets. For one thing, they can be more expensive than markets in other cities. Most that I’ve been to on the East Coast or in California offer prices competitive with, or cheaper than, supermarket values. This expense is partially the result of another problem: size. While the markets are often crowded, the number of vendors—and for some of the weekday markets, customers—can be dismal. My feel-good brethren and I would normally be willing to take on that additional expense for the great people watching and wholesome, communal vibes, but sometimes those too are noticeably absent at these markets.

Those reservations aside, there’s something to be said for the experience of buying locally. Even if you’re strictly there for the vegetables, it’s possible you’ll have a unique encounter—sampling a piece of fruit you can’t resist buying or chatting up a like-minded stranger. It’s hard to replicate that kind of moment in a grocery store, where the closest you’ll get to meeting your grower is a little sticker on your apple that says “New Zealand.” As Rios sums up our local farmers’ markets, “It’s still not Santa Monica, but it’s getting closer every day.”

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