by Blake Herzog
The Casa Grande Farmer’s Market has brought literally tons of produce each month to the community for nearly four years, allowing people to prepare nutritious, creative meals for their families for a fraction of the cost of purchasing the fruits and vegetables at a supermarket.
Its Facebook page is filled with recipe ideas and photos of delectable blueberry pies, strawberry scones, canned beans and more contributed by its loyal “friends” — Carrie Centero doesn’t like to call them “customers.”
The market is open the third Saturday of the month and “friends can pick up a hefty box of produce for a donation of $15 to cover transportation and other costs.
“You’ll see that we call them supporters once in a while, but the majority of the time we call them friends,” Centeno said. She said approximately 300 produce boxes are given out every month, with little variation between summer and winter crowds.
The farmers market also features numerous vendors every month, all of them local and selling jewelry, art and other crafts, candy, pastries and many other items. They begin at 7 a.m. and
are held at First Presbyterian Church,
702 E. Cottonwood Lane in Casa
Grande. Additional parking is available
at the adjacent Pinal County Sheriff’s Office station.
Centero and a brigade of other volunteers are continuing to offer this opportunity to Casa Grande, now with a more localized approach that is saving some money in the process. Their affiliation with Nogales, Arizona-based Borderlands Produce Rescue’s P.O.W.W.O.W program ended in April, but they are continuing to work with many of the same growers to bring their fresh produce that cannot be sold.
This can happen for a number of reasons, Centero said.
“Maybe there’s an ordering problem, one of the grocery stores, hypothetically, may have needed 1,000 watermelons but accidentally ordered 2,000. They can’t keep all 2,000, so they call us,” she said. Other produce may have been sent back for cosmetic flaws unrelated to quality or food safety or may have been unmarketable for other reasons.
Her organization and others like it “rescue” this produce from landfills and get it into kitchens at a low cost, particularly important at a time when inflation is eating away at everyone’s budget.
Centero and Paul Kwan of Glendale sit as the directors for Desert Farms 2 Table, a 501(c)3 nonprofit launched to support the first P.O.W.W.O.W. and farmers market Centeno started in 2013 for San Tan Valley. That one is held on the second Saturday of the month, and in August the group expanded to a third event for Apache Junction, to be held on the first Saturday of the month.
Leaving the P.O.W.W.O.W program means Desert Farms 2 Table doesn’t have to pay program fees, but losing the Borderlands trucks has led to a scramble to find alternative sources. They are saving as much money as possible toward buying at least one truck of their own.
Volunteers are always needed to help distribute the produce, and they can get some of it free in return. Centero said all the Casa Grande volunteers are invaluable but mainstays Esmerelda Castillo and Pam Williams are especially crucial: “We couldn’t have this market if we didn’t have them.”