Admittedly, Arizona might not seem like an agricultural state. Canyons, mountains and desert spring to mind, not farm fields and pastures. Arizona, however, boasts an annual $6.3 billion agricultural industry, with more than 7,500 farms and ranches statewide that produce beef, broccoli, citrus, milk, apples, melons, nuts and much more. Yuma, in fact, is the winter lettuce capital of the planet, giving us salad bowls filled with leaf, head and romaine lettuce.
Farm tours, farmers markets and restaurants with farm-to-table menus are a great way to sample Arizona’s agricultural bounty. Here are just a few places to visit.
Farms & Ranches
In Central Arizona, Queen Creek’s Schnepf Farms is best known for its peach orchards, U-pick organic gardens and annual festivals. A tractor-driven hayride tour and Dinner Down the Orchard are just a few other things you can do when visiting this 70-plus-year-old family farm.
Nearby, Queen Creek Olive Mill has a daily “Olive Oil 101” tour that starts at the olive grove out front and stops in the milling room – which is particularly fragrant and busy during late fall’s milling season – for olive farming, harvesting and pressing information.
Not far away, the Superstition Farm in Mesa has weekly hayride tours that include time spent in their “Moo-University” classrooms. Tours end at the milk bar, where you can enjoy a glass of flavored milk.
Fossil Creek Creamery, in the small North Central Arizona community of Strawberry, specializes in goat cheese and fudge. From April through November you can buy products, or register for weekly tours, which include a peek at operations and visits with the gregarious goats.
Yuma, in western Arizona, is home to many farms. During winter, “Field to Feast” narrated motorcoach tours drive past verdant fields and include a stop to pick ingredients that are made into your gourmet lunch, prepared by local culinary students.
Also in Yuma, Medjools rule at Martha’s Gardens Date Farm. You can buy boxes of the tasty date variety, try a date milkshake or join an educational tram tour from November to April, where you’ll drive through the palms and past the packing house to learn the history of this ancient crop.
Arizona’s farmers markets are a great way to get a one-stop-shopping overview of the state’s agricultural variety.
Founded in 1990, Roadrunner Park Farmers Market is the oldest ongoing farmers market in the state. Every Saturday morning throughout the year, about 55 vendors set up under the pines of this Phoenix park, selling everything from local organic vegetables and honey to vegan chocolate, tamales and hummus.
Just off the light rail, downtown’s Phoenix Public Market showcases up to 90 vendors at its Saturday market. Besides organic produce, look for quail eggs, goat meat and even organic dog food amid the offerings. The adjacent Phoenix Public Market Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails; look for sustenance from food trucks as well.
Flagstaff Community Markets keep things local from late spring through fall with Wednesday and Sunday markets featuring mostly Northern Arizona vendors. Look for vegetables, herbs, fresh flowers and grass-fed beef.
In North Central Arizona, Sedona Community Farmers Market is open for the summer and winter/spring season, with about 25 vendors showcasing their wares on Sundays in a bank parking lot during the winter months, and, in summer, about 45 vendors on Fridays under the sycamores at the Tlaquepaque retail center. Look for microgreens, apples, pecans, eggs and heirloom seeds for your garden.
In Southern Arizona, Tucson’s St. Philips Plaza Farmers Market operates year-round on the grounds of a gracious, Spanish Colonial-style shopping center. On Saturdays, the market features artisans and live music as well as food. On Sundays, it’s a foodie haven, with everything from locally grown produce and eggs to horseradish, pretzels and jams.
Nearby, Tucson’s Rillito Park Farmers Market runs all year long in the shade of a permanent market pavilion. On Saturdays, look for 20-some vendors selling such things as seasonal fruits vegetables, fresh roasted coffee, breads and even emu oil soaps. Sundays, the market beefs up to about 80 vendors, with food trucks, live music and chef demos offering additional diversions.
Farther south, Bisbee Farmers Market takes place year-round at Vista Park, its 40-plus vendors made up of many musicians and artisans, in addition to farmers. Look for Southern Arizona-grown vegetables, goat cheese and citrus, and you can feast on menudo – a spicy Mexican soup made with tripe – and pizza as well.
Many Arizona restaurants offer farm-to-table menus, with chefs sourcing produce and products from local growers – or even plucking ingredients from gardens just steps away from the kitchen.
In Central Arizona, Chef Dustin Christofolo just has to stroll outside his Quiessence restaurant at The Farm at South Mountain to source produce for his ever-changing menu from Maya’s Garden, the adjacent local grower. Sample an Arizona farm fig salad or dishes made from whatever’s fresh at this Phoenix restaurant, located in a charming old ranch house.
Four-time James Beard Award-finalist and Arizona celebrity Chef Kevin Binkley scours the state looking for ingredients for the innovative menus at his recently opened Binkley’s Restaurant. While fine-dining is still at the center of the table, Binkley's Restaurant, located in what used to be the more casual Bink's Midtown, wows guests with a 22-course meal in a setting that's intimately reminiscent of a quiet dinner with friends. Cafe Bink, often referred to as the "little sister" of the Binkley's restaurants, offers guests the freshness and innovative French inspiration Binkley is known for, but in a casual more affordable setting nestled in Carefree.
Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert sources most of its produce from its surrounding Agritopia community, a farm-based residential development. The casual, indoor-outdoor restaurant, housed in a 1960s family home, has menu items that include fresh-from-the-field salads, burgers, pizza and barbecue.
In Northern Arizona, Criollo Latin Kitchen is located in an old storefront in downtown Flagstaff’s historic district and offers a menu where almost everything – except perhaps for the coconut milk and seafood – is locally or regionally sourced. Try the seasonal tamale made with local greens, or the chile-braised Ridgeview Farms chicken from Paulden, Arizona.
Chef Jeff Smedstad traveled through Mexico for 15 years before opening his Central Arizona Elote Cafe in Sedona. Though the influences are Mexican, Smedstad sources many ingredients locally, including produce, cheeses, honey, mushrooms and blackberries from nearby Oak Creek Canyon. His bar menu includes local Verde Valley wines and craft beers.
In Southern Arizona’s downtown Tucson, James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder has been espousing local and heritage ingredients since the early 1980s, when he gave area gardeners seeds to plant vegetables he incorporated into his menus. His most recent restaurant, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, continues the tradition, including offering a special “Sense of Place” menu that emphasizes Southern Arizona foods and helps fund Native Seeds/SEARCH, a Southwest heritage seed conservation organization.