A handful of people gathered around a few long, wooden tables, their tops boasting crates of colorful produce of all shapes and sizes.
Marana residents examined the freshly picked beets, spinach, and tangerines offered by local growers, then picked their favorites and bagged them as they chatted with the stand’s volunteers.
These regulars come to the ramada, opposite Gladden Farms, every Monday afternoon for the locally grown fruits and vegetables offered at The Marana Community Farm’s Stand.
The stand, a budding Community Food Bank farmers’ market, teams up with a few local growers to sell seasonal produce. Most of it is picked from the nearly 12-acre Marana Community Farm, said Cie’na Schlaefli, the farm’s manager.
Schlaefli said that while the stand is the food bank’s smallest market, she has hopes that her produce, grown chemical-free and picked only hours before it is sold, will keep the stand growing.
The competitive prices she and other growers offer has helped the number of buyers more than double from when the stand began in the winter of 2007, she added. The price of a head of lettuce went for $2 and kale for $3 a pound.
“When we started, we had just a trickle of people – maybe two an hour, and we only had a few baskets full of greens,” she said, looking around at the copious amounts of fruit and veggies the stand now offers to the nearly 60 people who buy every week.
Schlaefli and the mix of a few local volunteers and food bank workers who sell the produce from the farm advertise any way they can.
In the past months, she and food bank volunteer Sarah Parsons have gone to the main intersection of Tangerine Road and Heritage Park Drive north of the farm every Monday and waved their produce to passersby.
“We’ve been out there dancing with carrots and beets to help get people,” Parsons said, and a few have been persuaded.
The main hook of the stand, Schlaefli said, is the fact that “everything is just so much tastier here.”
Regular Jennifer Christelman agreed. “It definitely tastes better, is fresher, and lasts longer,” she said. “The spinach I bought last Monday was so good that I ate it straight.”
Christelman has been coming to the stand for months “because it is a healthy alternative to the supermarket produce,” she said, adding she hopes the small stand’s popularity will pick up because of its quality produce.
“I know everything’s fresh and the prices are good,” said retired bus driver Flo Anderson, toting her farm-picked roughage to her car in a recycled plastic bag.
The longtime customer lives only a few miles from the stand and likes the farm’s convenience. With the nearest grocery store 15 or so minutes away, she doesn’t want to “waste the gas it takes to get there with the economy the way it is.”
She also enjoys buying light at the stand.
“I just needed a few things and I don’t like fighting tooth-and-nail at the major supermarkets for only a couple veggies.”
Local grower Frances Miller, farm manager at Farmer’s Nursery on Barnett and Postvale roads in Marana, said she hopes to jump-start the nursery through sales at the stand.
Her wooden table was decorated with a hand-written sign advertising each of her home-grown tangerines, oranges, lemons, and grapefruit at 25 cents apiece.
Miller, who has been selling at the stand for several months, has a handful of loyal customers who come for her citrus and greens.
“I was 15 minutes late today and I had a group of people waiting to buy the asparagus. Now I’m clean out,” she said.
Miller said the regulars get hooked on how fresh the produce is.
She picks the citrus no more than 24 hours before she sells it at the stand, “so it is about as fresh as you can get. My customers can taste that.”
Along with the fresh and healthy produce, Miller and her fellow growers consider themselves to be set apart from supermarket chains because her growing process stays in Marana.
“We rely on sustainable agriculture and everything we buy is local and organic,” she said.
Though she is not a certified organic grower, her chemical-free growing process is “about being more than organic. It’s about supporting your community and knowing your farmer’s name and trusting them.”
Motioning to the table opposite, which was crammed with the community farm’s apples and greens, Miller said she likes the variety that she can provide and the competitiveness of selling at the stand.
“We even give stuff away free if we can to people who need the produce. I’m not going to nickel-and-dime someone to death.”
Stacy Bennon toted around her daughter Avery while she shopped. Avery is a big fan of the citrus and veggies she finds, Bennon said.
The 2-year-old happily darted around the tables, picking out the ripest apples, lettuce and citrus she saw.
When Avery got to Miller’s stand, she pointed to baskets of lemons excitedly.
“My daughter will eat anything she picks out here. At the supermarket, she wouldn’t eat any veggies or fruits we bought,” Bennon said as Miller handed the girl a few lemons and took Bennon’s change.
“It’s really a trust thing,” Bennon added. “If my children can see who the food is coming from and trust that person, they will eat it.”
Manager Schlaefli said the stand is valuable to Marana’s economy.
“The money goes directly to the grower, rather than to a middle-man. It gets people involved in the community.”
The Marana Farm Stand
HOURS: Mondays year-round, 3-6 p.m. through October, then 4-7 p.m. November-April
LOCATION: Marana Farm Ramada at Heritage River Park, south of the intersection of Tangerine Farms Road and Heritage Park Drive near Gladden Farms
ONLINE: www.communityfoodbank.com, click on “Community Food Security Center” then “Marana Farm”