A Trail that Follows Food, Farms and Fun in Mesa Arizona
By Anne Braly
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
The Mesa Fresh Foodie Trail is not your typical food trail.
It’s about where our food comes from – a celebration of the farms that grow our food.
Agritourism is a trend that has been growing for decades, and along the Fresh Foodie Trail, there are 10 farms and dairies where visitors can tour and sample produce and other foods fresh from the fields.
The growing season is year round in Mesa, Arizona, so there’s always something delicious to discover.
“The trail takes a different approach to wellness by letting people know where their food comes from instead of going to a spa or other type of wellness vacation,” says Zoey Shircel, associate manager of media relations for Visit Mesa.
And, she adds, March through May are the best times to visit. It’s the time of year when the temperatures are pleasant enough to enjoy being outside and visiting the farms and the adventures that await.
You won’t find an overwhelming number of restaurant chains in the area. It’s all about farm-to-table freshness. Chef’s take full advantage of their place on Earth, visiting farms, alongside a growing number of locals and tourists, to select the freshest ingredients to take back to their kitchens, creating mouthwatering dishes that wow diners.
And visitors can pick vegetables from the fields or from the numerous farmer’s markets found along the path.
Eat Foodie Fresh
Take a tour at Queen Creek Olive Mill and learn about the process of making extra-virgin olive oil from tree to table, then enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at a table in the olive grove. Take some home, too.
The gift shop is filled with dozens of flavors, from traditional tastes to bacon, Meyer lemon, roasted garlic and other flavored oils. Vinegars, too.
Farm-to-table, field-to-fork – whatever name you want to give it – the level of dining you’ll find at Schnepf Farms (schnepffarms.com) has gone beyond a trend to become an expected experience when eating at a chef-driven restaurant.
Few, though, allow guests to meet the chef in the field, pick their own produce, learn new recipes by using those foods, and enjoying a meal later in the day as part of its Foraging With the Farmer, an experience that’s offered during the farm’s nonfestival months of January, February, April and May.
The 300-acre farm is the site of festivals 100 days out of the year, such as autumn’s Pumpkin and Chili Party Festival or its Peach Festival held in early spring.
Schnepf’s is a working farm, but also features the Cozy Peach glampground filled with fully restored vintage Airstreams, something of which many take advantage when attending festivals or cooking classes, or simply wanting a different type of overnight experience when traveling the Mesa Foodie Trail.
A Man With a Vision
Joe Johnston had a vision that, in 2000, became reality when his family farm – the land he grew up on – morphed into a marriage of agriculture and utopia.
The result? Agritopia (agritopiafarm.com), a planned community that, in the midst of urban sprawl, maintains its ties to the land as a commercial certified-organic farm with a community garden, while making space for the modern age with homes, a retirement center, its own school system and a world-class dog park.
Restaurants in Agritopia take full advantage of the fields outside their doors and bring in fresh produce and other foods from the area.
Places such as Barnone, a craftsman’s community that includes foods ranging from handcrafted cocktails to pizza and ice cream; Garage East, a winery where 99% of the wines are from Arizona; a coffee shop; and more delights.
Today, Agritopia is a prime example of what can happen when citizens work together, returning to our roots without sacrificing modern needs.
Off the Farm
Bakeries, such as Proof Bread, and farms, such as Agritopia sell their produce to area restaurants, so if you can’t make a trip to the farm, you’ll find them represented on menus far and wide throughout Maricopa County.
Old Ellsworth Brewing Company has a Brewben that will knock your socks off and, like many of its sandwiches, uses local breads. What’s Crackin’ Egg Cafe (whatscrackincafe.com) uses locally sourced ingredients for many of its brunch dishes. The popular bruschetta boards at Postino (postinowinecafe) are made with local breads spread with ingenious toppings.
And grocery store-turned-restaurant, Liberty Market (libertymarket.com), is known for its appreciation of local ingredients, including a savory vegan bowl with sweet potatoes, fresh herbs, greens and avocado blended with Forbidden rice.
What’s All the Buzz About?
The rich soil and excellent growing climate make for a wealth of produce coming from the gardens along the Fresh Foodie Trail. But all its deliciousness would not be possible without a healthy honeybee population, and Mesa’s Alveole, a division of Urban Beekeeping Company, an international corporation, is a vital partner in making all the sweet goodness happen.
Pollinating Bees are Key
“We need them to pollinate our citrus and vegetable plants,” says Mark Freeman, owner of Freeman Farms, a farm with a farmer’s market that sells produce from its area fields, as well as welcoming other farmers to sell their produce.
Alveole has 24 hives installed around the Mesa area, from area farms to rooftops in urban areas.
“Helping the environment impacts us all,” says beekeeper Amanda Harder. “It’s all about sustainability, and over time, we can grow the honeybee population.”
A Vertical Climb
You’ll need to look up to see the gardens at True Garden, where plants grow aeroponically and vertically on tall cylindrical towers.
Vegetables and herbs are planted in small holes along the tower and fed by water infused with nutrients. It’s a soilless growing system that local compounding pharmacist Troy Albright introduced to help reduce the area’s agricultural water consumption while providing a better way to eat for those in his community.
It’s the first of its kind in the Southwest and catching on quickly as chefs come “shopping” for fresh greens, and gardeners come to buy seedlings to transplant into their own gardens or aeroponic systems.
Tours, which include tastings of the more than 100 different healthy plants growing in a greenhouse filled with towers of greens, are offered for 10 or more.
Stop in for a tour or to learn more about how to set up a system in your own home. Classes are offered monthly. Visit truegarden.com for more information.
Take a Hike on the Fresh Foodie Trail
After eating your fill at farms and eateries along the Fresh Foodie Trail, Maricopa County has an extensive choice of trails to get some exercise.
Usery Mountain Regional Park (maricopacountyparks.net) is a 3,600-acre park, for both equestrians and hikers, with trails that snake through the Upper Sonoran Desert.
The Vista Trail is one of its easiest. It’s a short hike, taking about an hour’s walk up a small mountain and back down again. At its peak is a stunning view of the Superstition Mountains, where it’s said a German miner, Jacob Waltz, hit the jackpot as he mined for gold.
His treasure is hidden somewhere on the mountain, and countless hunters have looked for it – and continue to do so – to no avail. Along the Vista Trail, you’ll see numerous varieties of cacti and interesting rock formations. Wear sturdy shoes and be forewarned: Don’t touch the jumping cactus.
Go for the Gold
It’s believed that a cache of gold worth millions lies beneath the Goldfield Mountains. Only there’s no way of getting to it. Goldfield Mine was a successful venture until, in November 1897, the mine flooded following the failure of a local dam.
Today, Goldfield has reopened as a major tourist attraction, Goldfield Ghost Town (goldfieldghosttown.com). It’s an amusement park includes a tour of the abandoned mine, shops, a saloon, rides and more, all with a Western theme, including tour guides.
There’s a two-seater zipline, too, that takes riders high above the town to get a birds-eye view of the old town of Goldfield as well as the surrounding desert and mountains. Or, stop by the saloon, and you’ll feel as if you’re back in the Wild West.