Jan Eisenreich walked across the blacktop parking lot on a sizzling Sunday morning, surrounded by an environment so dry and hot that it seemed incapable of sustaining life. But over her arm Eisenreich had several plastic bags filled with juicy-fresh fruits and vegetables, and under tented canopies around her were tables filled with an assortment of nature's bounty.
Welcome to Fresh 52, one of several farmers' markets offered across the Las Vegas Valley each week, where Eisenreich and many others are regular customers.
"I'm trying to be healthier," the schoolteacher said. "When I eat a pepper from the grocery store and one from the farmers' market, there's a huge difference."
Indeed. You know those supermarket tomatoes that so often have all of the appeal of plastic foam? The sweet corn that's dried out by the time it reaches your neighborhood store? Bah! Not here, where the produce comes right off the trucks of the growers, who hail from farming regions in California and Utah.
Stephanie Cantwell is one of those growers, traveling from the Fresno, Calif., area to meet what she thinks is an increasing demand. She has been making the trip to Las Vegas for six years. She's part of a consortium of seven farms that takes up one corner of the Fresh 52 market. On tables around her are watermelons, honeydew melons, cantaloupes, lemons, peaches, nectarines, plums, avocados, honey, mangos, garlic, okra, brussels sprouts, green beans, tomatoes, broccoli, scallions, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, Armenian cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, onions and baby cucumbers -- and at prices generally comparable to regular prices at local supermarkets.
And that's not all the market has to offer. A line is forming at a stand selling fresh sweet corn, another at one with baskets of fresh strawberries. There's a create-your-own trail-mix stand, one selling handmade jewelry and crafts. There are handmade dips and salsas, gourmet mini-doughnuts, fresh bread, shaved ice, baked corn and hats. The atmosphere is not only people-friendly but dog-friendly, with water bowls in front of some stands and dogs on leashes mixing with the crowd.
"This has turned out to be a good market," Cantwell said of Fresh 52, which is the newest in the valley at Sansone Park Place at 9480 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson. "I wish there were more."
There are -- though they're mostly smaller than the new kid in town -- and like many other vendors, Cantwell and her cohorts can be found elsewhere. (And Eisenreich said it's wise to compare prices, because the same produce may cost more at one market than another.)
Priscilla Van Dyke of Blythe, Calif., was sitting in the shade at the Las Vegas Farmers Market at Gardens Park, 10401 Garden Park Drive. She has been bringing her produce to Las Vegas for four or five years. She arrives on Mondays and makes deliveries at Hash House A Go Go and Enoteca San Marcos, then does the Gardens Park market on Tuesday, the one at Bruce Trent Park at 1600 N. Rampart Blvd. on Wednesdays and, on weeks when there's a market at Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, 9200 Tule Springs Road, goes there as well. And then she does it all over again.
"It started when my husband planted 1,000 artichoke plants," Van Dyke said wryly. "We had no more refrigerated space for artichokes, so I had to do something."
At the Las Vegas Farmers' Market at Bruce Trent Park the next day, Ben Baker has set up with the help of his brother, Chad, 14, and son, Mark, 11. Baker lives on a ranch 35 miles west of St. George, Utah, and has brought cherry tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, Armenian cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, pattypan squash and green beans. He said he does the Bruce Trent market because it's midweek; the St. George market is on Saturdays, so he can space out his harvest.
Around Baker Produce's stand were those selling all-natural handmade soap, kettle corn, art glass, hot dogs, roasted corn, hair accessories, oven-baked corn, and cat climbing structures and doghouses.
At the Henderson Farmers' Market on Thursday at the Henderson Events Plaza, 200 S. Water St., booths offering fresh fruits and vegetables were surrounded by those with water systems, jewelry, Tupperware, bread, Western accessories and pizza that's folded like a taco. And -- a constant at all four markets -- Sasa Sweets, with shaved ice and handmade breakfast pastries. Joe Vergara, a partner in the business with his sister, Liza, said they started out at farmers' markets and other events, but found that the markets were their niche. Their products are all made from scratch, including the shaved-ice syrups in more than a dozen flavors.
At the Bruce Trent market, Sasa Sweets drew a long line of kids celebrating the end of the school day with refreshing shaved ice. But Ben Baker was looking toward fall, when he'll add peas, carrots, winter squash and other produce, until the end of October.
"As the weather cools off," he said, "it definitely gets better."
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.