Some Fridays, Kerry Clasby leaves her Ventura County, Calif., home at 4 a.m. to open the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, 300 N. Casino Center Blvd., at 9 a.m.
“I’m on the road a lot. I’m kind of a nomad,” Clasby said. “I love doing it. I love bringing farm-fresh organic food to people.”
In addition to the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, Clasby’s company, California Family Farms, operates several farmers markets in California. She doesn’t call herself the founder, manager or owner. She prefers the title “intuitive forager.”
“I have people who work for me now, but I’m still out there traveling in a big circle, going from market to market,” she said. “I go to the best farmers markets in California and bring that here.”
The Downtown 3rd Farmers Market is in an old downtown bus terminal, next to the Mob Museum. Every Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., crafters and organic farmers from California and Nevada bring the old facility to life.
Clasby said she came to Las Vegas at the request of chef Mario Batali, who operates several restaurants across the world, including B&B Ristorante in The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
“He asked me to do a farmers market with him,” Clasby said. “I started coming out there to bring food for chefs on the Strip, and they’re basically subsidizing this farmers market. It’s expensive to bring food across the desert, but when I buy a case of something for a chef, I buy some extra to bring to the farmers market.”
Clasby is passionate about the food at the farmers market. She points out that there are six or seven varieties of heirloom potatoes available there and many different kinds of peppers and tomatoes.
By way of example, she picked up a small tomato, about the size of a grape, from a nearby basket.
“These are dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes,” Clasby said. “They are organically dry-farmed, which means they have to be grown in certain climates. If you tried to grow them out here, they’d burn up.”
She explained that the plant is starved of water when the fruit begins to form. They’re grown in coastal California, so the morning fog provides the little water they get. It makes the fruit small but intensely sweet.
“They’re vine-ripened and never refrigerated,” Clasby said. “You can’t get flavor and quality like that in a big-chain grocery store.”
Much of the year, there are farmers markets across the valley. In November and December, the combination of harvest time and the holiday season make them some of the busiest shopping spots in the area.
The Paradise/downtown area boasts three farmers markets. In addition to the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, there is the Bet on the Farm! Farmers Market, open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. The fresh52 Farmers & Artisan Market, which operates at three locations, is open in the Paradise/downtown area from 3 to 7 p.m. Fridays in front of Whole Foods Market at Town Square Las Vegas, 6689 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
Carrie Hogan, who founded fresh52 and is the market manager for its three locations, was inspired by the film “Food, Inc.,” which criticizes the food industry.
“At the end of the film, it encourages people to take action and start their own farmers markets, which is just what I did,” Hogan said. “I opened the first one in May 2010. There wasn’t much out there then, and I saw it was something our community needed.”
She thinks there was a critical mass of awareness at about that time and more people were growing concerned about where their food was coming from and what was in it.
“It’s still a challenge to run the markets and make sure we get enough locally grown food at the markets,” Hogan said. “There aren’t a lot of farms nearby, — this is a tough place to grow in— but we have some small farmers who are doing a remarkable job.”
Hogan said she brings more small farmers to her other two markets, in part because the Town Square Las Vegas location has no indoor section.
“You would think it would be the sun that’s the enemy of Nevada farmers but it’s the wind,” Hogan said, “If we get a big gust blowing through here, it can knock a stand over.”
Despite that, Hogan brings farmers and artisans to the Las Vegas Boulevard location every week and continues to add more.
“We came down from Salt Lake City to open a franchise of Dog Training Elite,” said Aidan Rosequist, who was working a booth at fresh52 Farmers & Artisan Market with his wife, Kelly. “This our first day here, and we like the look of it already.”
The Bet on the Farm! Farmers Market was founded by and is operated by a group that includes Batali. It sits in the midst of the Springs Preserve, and admission to the grounds of the preserve and the farmers market are free.
Between them, Connie Beatty and her husband sell honey and related products for the Pahrump Honey Co. at five valley markets, including at the preserve.
“We’re friends of the owner of the hives,” Beatty said. “He has them spread out all over the desert to get a good accumulation of the natural plant life in our area and anything that’s been imported. If there’s a pollen out there that you’re allergic to, eating this honey will help you build your immunity.”
Because of all the time they spent working the Las Vegas Valley farmers markets, the couple consider themselves part-time Las Vegans. Connie Beatty said she loves the work.
“The best part is meeting new people, talking to them and educating them about the product,” she said.
Vickie Huchmala, who also works several farmers markets, including Downtown 3rd, enjoys making her products and dealing directly with consumers.
“I make everything myself,” she said. “Right now, I’ve got pies, hazelnut spread, and since it’s getting cold, I’ve got all the makings of soup in one jar. You just put it in the crockpot before work, and when you get home, your dinner is ready.”
She doesn’t just sell at the market. She shops there, too.
“I buy the ingredients for a lot of the things I make right here,” Huchmala said. “I buy bread for bread pudding from the guy next to me. I buy jam from the jam guys and put that into what I’m making, and I buy rosemary from the herb woman to make lemon-rosemary cake. We all work together, which is nice.”
Marilyn Kasimoff brings her crafts to the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market every week, even in the last months of the year, which she calls “craft season.” She has her own reasons for enjoying working at the farmers markets.
“I’m at a lot of county fairs on Saturdays this time of year,” the Sunrise Manor resident said. “The rest of the week, I work making crafts 11 or 12 hours a day. I don’t have a boss over me, so I work when I want.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.