Bruce Rogers has farmed onions for 30 years — as a hobby.
"I like to see things grow," the Mesa resident said. "You go out and plant something and you go out every day to see if it’s up."
Four years ago, Rogers decided he wanted to share his sweet onions with his neighbors. Since then, he has been one of about 100 Arizona farmers to sell his produce at farmers markets, open-air shops where local farmers sell their produce directly to the public.
Fifty farmers markets operate around the state, including six in Scottsdale. The fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets are more varied and nutritious than their grocery store counterparts, said Dee Logan, senior coordinator for the Arizona Community Farmers Market Group.
"It’s just within hours of being in the field, so you’re getting the maximum vitamin content," Logan said.
Growers sell everything from fresh flowers to peaches to homemade tamales. One farmer grows 10 different types of lettuce, she said.
Farmers stick around the markets to sell their produce, giving customers the chance to talk directly to the people growing their food, said Cindy Gentry, director of Community Food Connection.
"Your food isn’t just a commodity," Gentry said. "There’s people doing a lot of hard work to get it to you. It doesn’t just magically appear at Safeway."
These interactions also are entertaining for the farmers.
"People assume you’re an expert," Rogers said. "You get a lot of conversations started."
Growers like Rogers are becoming scarce. As urbanization pushes many farmers out of the Valley, fewer people participate in the markets, Logan said. Ten years ago, some markets would have 12 growers selling home-grown produce. Now, the same markets attract eight to 10 farmers.
"About five years ago, I wasn’t even sure if we were going to have farmers markets," she said.
Many markets have started to sell crafts alongside produce to draw in more customers. And while the crafts do bring in additional revenue, Logan said she hopes markets one day will focus exclusively on produce again.
"You’re really not a farmers market," she said. "You’re a craft market with some food in it. What we need are more produce-eaters."