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What Happened to the Sugar House Farmers Market?

What farmers market customers don’t see are the countless hours of volunteer labor that bring such events to life. But sometimes that energy and enthusiasm simply runs dry. 


SUGAR HOUSE — These grand gatherings of growers and fresh food under sunkissed umbrellas crop up every summer, providing parents, kids, dogs and strollers the chance to mill about in chaotic harmony.

What farmers market customers don’t see are the countless hours of volunteer labor that bring such events to life. But sometimes that energy and enthusiasm simply runs dry. 

Such was the case of the Sugar House Farmers Market that withered away in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to, the once-thriving event is on hiatus. 

Patrons relax at Sugar House Farmers Market.
Patrons relax at Sugar House Farmers Market.

Why it fizzled

First established in 2010, the Sugar House market would have marked its 10th anniversary in 2020, but Covid-19 suspended that celebration. Other factors also hindered its reappearance.

Aimee Horman helped manage the market from 2017 to 2020, and recently reminisced about her experience.

“The problem we ran into as a board was the saturated nature of neighborhood farmers markets,” Horman said by phone in mid-May. 

“There’s one almost every night of the week, between University of Utah, Liberty Park, Downtown and Wheelers Farm.”

That glut of gatherings helped spur a supply-demand dilemma. 

“We couldn’t get enough farmers to necessarily draw the crowd or couldn’t get the crowd to buy enough stuff from the farmers to make it worth their while,” Horman said.

Horman also noted that there are five grocery stores within walking distance of her Sugar House home.

“We’re the opposite of a food desert,” she said.

Through its decade-long operation, the Sugar House market also went through several iterations to see what worked..

“It kind of bounced around. It’s been Saturdays, it’s been midweek,” Horman said.

Prior to her current role as manager of Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market, Nichole Mathews worked several years with the Sugar House market, and said that shifting it from one venue to another might have contributed to its downfall.

“That original space they were in on 21st South was very walkable for much of the community,” Mathews said. “And then they had to move it to Sugar House Park for a couple of years, then over to the Deseret Industry space for a couple of years, and then, finally to Fairmont Park.”

Mathews also pointed to a significant difference between smaller neighborhood markets and the larger legacy market she now oversees.

“We have three full-time staff for our [downtown] market. But Sugar House didn’t have the bandwidth to support it,” Mathews said, noting the importance of fundraising to be able to pay staff, and finding board members who can be consistent and contribute valuable skills. 

“It’s a lot of work to pull the permits, to get volunteers to do the organization, and it’s basically a part-time job when you already have a full-time job,” Mathews said.

But with the larger, well-established Downtown market, Mathews said they have a backup system in place where, “if one of us were not to go into work tomorrow, someone else could pick it up and run that list of how-to’s.” 

Sugar House Farmers Market logo.

Fond memories

Natalie McHale, now the Farm to School marketing specialist for Utah’s Department of Agriculture & Food, reflected on her time working with the Sugar House market between 2015 and 2019, and how it shaped her life.

“Through immersing myself in that culture, I just realized that I feel healthier, and it trickled into other aspects of my life — fitness, mental health — and you meet who grows your food,” McHale said. “Farmers markets are also such a great social experience.”

While the work can be difficult and tricky — even overwhelming at times — it also brought joy.

“As a volunteer organization, it was really difficult. But it was so fun,” Horman said. “We had wonderful plans for the 10th anniversary … then Covid.” 

Can it sprout again?

No one knows if the Sugar House Farmers Market will make a comeback, but its organizational framework still exists, Horman said, “so I wouldn’t rule out that someone might want to take it up and run with it.”

Since relocating to Heber in 2019, McHale focused her time and energy elsewhere, but still hopes the Sugar House market can revive.

“I definitely see the value,” McHale said. “I think it would be helpful to bring back people who were part of it in the past and could say what worked and didn’t work. But I’d also get fresh ideas. I think it has a chance.”

Lighting the way

This January, Utah State University published a 234-page digital handbook called The Utah Farmers Network

“For anyone interested in picking up a market or being more efficient at the market they’re running, this is a how-to from managers across the state, from stakeholders, cities, and regulators,” Mathews said. “And it’s very extensive.”

Download the manual here.

Feature image: Sugar House Farmers Market. All photos courtesy of Sugar House Farmers Market.

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