My Desert Paradise: Heirloom Market

Hannah Christ

Home Away from Home

I come from a magical land much different than a desert, far, far away: Missouri. When I first visited Tucson the May before I started my freshman year at the University of Arizona, the Heirloom Market at Rillito Park was the very first place I visited after stepping out of the airport, straight into a desert oasis you’d see in a movie. I was on the visit Tucson website looking for something to fill up my weekend and learned about the Heirloom markets sprinkled throughout Tucson. Instantly, I got into an Uber and made my way down to Rillito Park. The market reminded me so much of what I loved back in Missouri: the friendly faces, amazing food, beautiful scenery, and a strong sense of community. As a result, visiting the market made it much easier for Tucson to feel like my new home.

Early Bird Gets the Parking Spot

Every Sunday at 9 am (8:30 am during February-April and 8 am April to September), the entire parking lot is already overflowing with cars and RVs before the market has even opened. I finally find a parking spot and emerge from my vehicle where I’m greeted by the wave of hustle and bustle accompanied by the background music provided by the local artists that weekend. Finally, I come to the entrance of the market, greeted by three larger than life food trucks, such as the sweetness that drifts from Planet of the Crepes. I see the “please leave your pets at home” sign and smile to myself as there are dozens of dogs following their owners around from booth to booth.

The Rillito market covers over 5,000 square feet of the park; therefore, I make a few rounds every trip to be able to see everything. Before I begin my trek each Sunday morning, I head to the middle of the market. Set up like a mini town square, you see music being played, friends and family laughing as they eat fresh churros from Churros Inzunza in the center, and the welcoming information booth. The market information booth always has a few smiling, embracing employees available to answer all my questions. I had the great opportunity to talk with Brady, who’s been working at the markets for over a year. He explained to me the ins and outs of the SNAP/EBT/WIC and Double Up Arizona programs.

Keeping Things Local

All markets and their vendors accept SNAP/EBT (food stamps), and the forms of payment are cute “SNAP/EBT bucks” that look like dollar bills. They are worth $1 for every buck you have. For every SNAP/EBT buck you receive, you also receive that exact amount in Double Up Arizona bucks for free. These can be used to obtain fresh produce only, from any locally sourced farmer.

Brady went into detail with me about the main goals of the SNAP/EBT program within the Heirloom markets. Ultimately this program aims to “support farmers” all around southern Arizona. The program was also created to help “people with lower income and lower opportunity get good food”. The fact that the market works so hard to give back to every member of the community, furthers my appreciation of what it has to offer.

There’s Always Room for More

Talking about good food, I’ve come to the right place, and man, is the food exceptional! You can find any kind of cuisine under the sun, from homemade salsa to fresh churros made right in front of your eyes. When asked what his favorite vendor was, Brady told me he “never gets tired” of Adventure Coffee. The coffee vendor is proud to provide the best organic beans and make sure everything is sustainably sourced, so the coffee makes you feel good inside and out. He also gave honorable mentions to Pastizzi, a bakery that sells pastizzi (a golden brown, light pastry that originated from the Mediterranean).

Personally, I always cross my fingers that I’m able to hit Cafe Francais before all the freshly baked goods are sold out. The peach and fennel danish are to die for, and I never leave before getting my hands on that light and flakey delicacy. This boulangerie and patisserie brings “classic French with Sonoran flair” Tucson and even has shops outside of the market.

As I walk under the pavilions I also see just as many people selling goods. There’s something for everyone at the market. For dog lovers, you can find Prancing Pet Bakery that makes cooking and jerky for your canine friends. Or peanut butter and jelly lovers can head over to the booth with the cutest elderly couple at We B Jammin Farm that sells homemade jams and preservatives.

Besides the amazing food and crafted goods, the fresh produce is my favorite. It feels good to know that you’re giving back to the community by providing support to each other, and it tastes special too. The great thing about buying local is you’ll only find produce that’s in season, guaranteeing it’ll be exquisite. This time of the year, I’m able to load up my brown bag with crisp vegetables like bok choy, eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes along with apples and giant pomegranates. As a college student I love how I can pick out exactly how much I need of whatever I’m buying, because shopping for one can be expensive and makes you prone to wasting perfect food. I save money and don’t waste anything, it’s a win-win.

A Community Within

Heirloom market embodies the soul of Tucson; a place that’s coined the “city of gastronomy”, the heart of the Sonoran Desert, events and attractions around every corner, and the ethereal outdoors. The greatness of this city is exhibited through each one of us walking under a few pavilions every week. Feeling connected with my new community is what makes the market so special for me, and I hope you visit and find a love for the market just as I have.


Hannah Christ is an Architect major and Italian minor at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She has been attending the university since 2022.