To read last week’s installment of the Faces of the Open Air Market series, click here.
Every Saturday morning at the Phoenix Open Air Market, you can expect Crooked Sky Farms to set up its booth in the back corner with guaranteed fresh veggies, friendly service and, now, a pet goat.
Crooked Sky Farms is the largest community-supported agricultural producer in the state, supplying more than 800 people on a weekly basis. With only 23 employees, the farm has kept its roots in family relationships.
“I always try to get the kids involved,” said Crooked Sky Farms vendor Tom McGraw, 28.
The newest addition to the McGraw family is a pygmy goat named Houdini.
“Every time he sees a bag of vegetables, he jumps up on his hind legs,” McGraw said with a laugh.
Decked out in Arizona Cardinals gear, McGraw explained that he became involved with Crooked Sky Farms after he married the farmer’s daughter. Since then, he has lost 80 pounds from eating the produce and learned a lot about growing vegetables.
“The best part about going to work is getting to spend time with my wife,” McGraw said.
With 6-year-old Chris, 7-year-old Levi and one more on the way, McGraw’s wife, Crystal, is happy to have her husband supporting the family.
“He’s so good with all the customers,” 27-year-old Crystal McGraw said. “It makes it easy for me.”
Crooked Sky Farms is located at 16th Avenue just south of Interstate 17 in Phoenix. Everything sold is 100 percent local and organic, and produce is always seasonal. Along with rare vegetables such as purple green beans and Romanesco cauliflower, some unusual pets have a part in the farm’s success as well.
Crystal McGraw’s father, Frank Martin — more commonly known as “Farmer Frank” — keeps two ostriches, four emus and more than 40 chickens at his house. The eggs are sold both at the farm and the Open Air Market.
Crooked Sky Farms’ slogan is “Naturally Grown, Naturally Yours,” and it has run into difficulties being an all-natural producer.
“Bugs are often an issue because we don’t use pesticides,” McGraw said. “There is also the risk of the winter freeze.”
Tom McGraw said Crooked Sky Farms uses preventative measures to guard against these setbacks, such as transplanting and greenhouse growing. The farm is currently helping to transplant more than 30,000 tomato plants.
Prices for vegetables range from 50 cents to $3 per bunch, although vegetables that take longer to harvest are more expensive, McGraw said.
Yet the benefits of buying locally grown products are of the utmost importance for avid juicer C.R. Moreth, 57.
Moreth believes that buying locally allows you to build personal relationships with growers and keeps farmers in business. In order to support local growers, he explained, consumers need to stop giving their money to large-scale corporations.
“We vote with our dollar,” Moreth said. “Your power is in your purse.”
Moreth appreciates that Crooked Sky Farms is open to the public, and he goes there often to buy produce for his juice. He senses a change in consumer preferences and is optimistic about the future.
“People are starting to wake up, and the way back to health is sitting right here on this table,” Moreth said, pointing to a display of kale.
This change is consistent in the growing local-food community.
Tim Hardy is a Phoenix resident and adviser for Chow Locally, a company that works with 20 local farmers in Arizona. Crooked Sky Farms was one of Chow Locally’s first partners in September 2011, he said.
“They always have amazing quality,” Hardy said.
Showing people that food can be grown in the Arizona desert is a goal Hardy has in order to get more people on the local bandwagon. He stressed the importance of sustainable growing practices in Arizona’s dry climate, adding that “local food just tastes a lot better.”
Crooked Sky Farms continues to promote local farming through various methods.
The farm had its first Artichoke Festival on March 30 and 31 in order to promote community-supported agriculture. The event had a turnout of about 200 people and included a candlelit dinner on the farm, along with music and flamethrowers.
With these efforts, Tom McGraw believes Phoenix residents are becoming more supportive of local farmers.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “We are getting a lot of first- and second-time market customers lately, which shows the community is growing.”
Mike and Lisa Goodwin are a husband-and-wife duo who have been buying from Crooked Sky Farms at the Open Air Market every week for the past two years.
Lisa Goodwin, 38, explained that she and her husband were both born and raised in Arizona. For her, helping support the local economy and eating good food at the same time is a win-win scenario.
“About 75 percent of our weekly shopping is local, and you get that connection many people lose in supermarkets,” Lisa Goodwin said.
She said the McGraws are knowledgeable and friendly, and they give her great suggestions on produce.
“I love the freshness and variety,” Goodwin said. “We are really lucky to have a long growing season in Arizona.”
Tom and Crystal McGraw remind customers that as spring comes to an end, most of the greens will be gone by the end of the month. This being said, there are many things to look forward to in the upcoming season.
“We usually do best in sales during the summer,” Tom McGraw said. “Melons, corn and chilies will be big.”
With all the hype of healthy eating and swimsuit season on the rise, McGraw encourages people to continue buying locally and supporting Arizona farmers.
“I never knew that eating healthy could taste so good,” McGraw said.
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