Playing the market

From the quirky to the delicious, the Sparks Hometowne Farmers’ Market is where it’s at

Steven Gifford, owner of Prism Magic Tie Dye, can turn even your undies into bursts of psychedelic color.

Steven Gifford, owner of Prism Magic Tie Dye, can turn even your undies into bursts of psychedelic color.

Photo By David Robert

Local foodies already know the Sparks Hometowne Farmers’ Market is a great place to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. The market recently kicked off its 2006 season, and as always, food is the focus—from farm-fresh cherries and strawberries to homemade honey and flavored nuts. And that’s not counting the many local restaurants that serve up barbecue, Thai and Indian fare, plus the ever-popular hillbilly kettle corn whose salty-sweet aroma permeates the air.

But the Farmers’ Market offers much more than fresh foods. Whether you’re looking for apparel, accessories or home décor, you can find something one-of-a-kind from the local vendors at the market each week. Here are a few of the more unusual choices you’ll find this year.

To dye for
Walking into Prism Magic can be a bit of a shock to the eyes—everywhere you look, it’s a high-voltage blast of tie-dyed color. The racks are full of colorful T-shirts, tank tops, skirts and dresses. Tie-dyed socks hang cheerfully on a clothesline strung across the booth. On top of one rack are several baskets containing piles of tie-dyed briefs.

“Anything that’s cotton or rayon,” says owner Steven Gifford, “we’ll dye it.” Gifford co-owns the business with his wife, Lauren. They’ve been selling their brightly colored creations for 12 years.

“We can clothe you from head to toe, top to bottom,” Gifford says, gesturing at his own ensemble as proof. Today, he’s wearing a tie-dyed shirt, overalls and socks, which makes for quite a spectacle. No word on whether he’s sporting the tie-dyed briefs, however.

Gifford was introduced to tie-dye when he began seeing the shirts at Grateful Dead concerts. “I bought a tie-dye kit and made shirts for the family,” he says with a rueful smile. “Now, it’s taken over my life.”

A woman approaches Gifford, triumphantly holding up a baby’s onesie. “I think my first grandson should have some tie-dye,” she says.

“Absolutely!” laughs Gifford. “Get him off to a good start.”

The Giffords sell their tie-dyed designs at a variety of craft shows from Taylorsville to Tahoe, and they sometimes operate booths separately in order to cover more events. Tonight, business is brisk, and the booth is full of customers browsing the rainbow-colored racks.

Gifford says it’s not just older Grateful Dead fans who buy his wares; he has customers of all ages. “It always makes people smile, whether they love tie-dye or hate it,” he says.

“I love tie-dye!” a nearby middle-aged man enthusiastically announces to the market in general. After all, who couldn’t use a little more color in their lives?

Freshly baked candles
At first sniff, you might think you’ve wandered into the prize-winning pie booth at a county fair. The tables and shelves are crammed full of pies and cakes: crumb-topped apple pies, strawberry pies studded with whole fruit, and giant blueberry muffins bursting with berries. A smiling, grandmotherly woman presides over a pile of cinnamon rolls that takes up half a table and gives off a rich, warm aroma.

Oasis Famstead Dairy emloyee Michelle Miller, left, watches owner Mona Miller (no relation) open a tub of goat cheese for sampling. The flavors go far beyond plain, ranging from jalapeño to chocolate mint.

Photo By David Robert

But you’re at Candlicious Candles, and those delicious-looking pastries are made of wax. If you ask that lady who makes the candles, she’ll point to a tall, lean man in jeans and a baseball cap and proudly say, “My son.” Owner Bob Truesdale has been making his signature candles since 1999, when a friend taught him to make candle cinnamon rolls and muffins.

“The cinnamon roll wasn’t very good,” he says chuckling. “It was lopsided. It needed some work.” Truesdale has come a long way since then. He now makes about 125 cinnamon roll candles—his best sellers—in a day.

Other flavors, such as cherry pie, banana nut bread and pumpkin pie, soon followed. “I just start thinking of what a dessert would look like in my mind, and if I could copy it,” he says of his process. To make the candles, Truesdale pours the base into a tin pie plate, then he adds hand-shaped details, like the crust and toppings.

If pastry-shaped candles aren’t your thing, Truesdale also sells jar candles and votives, with scents ranging from coffee to watermelon. He occasionally gets requests for floral scents like lavender or rose, but the baked-goods candles are his main focus. “I like to try to stay along food-oriented scents,” he says.

With all these treats to choose from, you might think Truesdale would have difficulty picking a favorite, but he doesn’t hesitate. “My favorite one to make is apple pie,” he explains with a smile. “It’s the easiest to make!” To judge by the number of people walking away with pies in hand, plenty of shoppers consider these candles a blue-ribbon favorite.

Get your goat (cheese)
It’s not easy to make your way to the counter at the Oasis Farmstead Dairy. The booth is full of customers waiting to sample the dairy’s award-winning goat cheese spreads, both savory (jalapeño, garlic and dill) and sweet (chocolate mint, lemon and strawberry). But when you do get a taste of these creamy, flavorful cheeses, you’ll agree it’s worth the wait.

“Do you like cheesecake?” asks employee Michelle Miller, slyly. Getting the inevitable affirmative, she whips open a tub of cheese, dips a cookie in and presents it, refusing to identify the flavor. The taste is light and sweet, something like lemon custard but richer; it’s excellent. “It’s single-malt scotch!” she says, showing the label.

“Put it on peaches,” advises a customer, happily accepting a sample.

The Oasis Farmstead Dairy is owned by Mona and Steve Miller (no relation to Michelle), who’ve been making goat cheese since 1999. Steve’s mother raised cows and goats, and the Millers began making plain cheese, but Steve soon saw opportunities for expanding the business.

“My husband said, ‘Oh, no, we can’t just do plain!'” says Mona with a grin. Soon, the spicy Queso Diablo was introduced and went on to win awards in cheese-loving Wisconsin. Later, flavors like horseradish, onion and pepper ranch entered the lineup. The Millers also make plain and flavored feta and habañero fudge.

"[Steve] has a sweet tooth,” Mona explains, waving at the single-malt scotch spread. “He says that’s what happens when the cheesemaker gets bored.”

“I’m always coming up with something,” agrees Steve, a tall, gray-haired man with a soft voice. Some flavors, like amaretto vanilla bean, have been retired because the ingredients became too expensive, but he doesn’t recall any flavors that were out-and-out-failures.

Michelle leans over his shoulder. “Did you ever make one with apple schnapps?” she asks. Steve pauses to consider, then nods.

“See, he did!” calls a woman from the front counter, vindicated. But even if he hadn’t, he probably would have tried it eventually. The Millers are dedicated to introducing the world to goat cheese, one exotic flavor at a time.