It’s harvest time in Southern Arizona.
No, the bounty is not a cactus fruit, a fiery variety of chili, or any other crop commonly depicted on knickknacks in Southwestern gift shops.
The bounty is corn, and it’s in great supply.
“There are stacks and stacks and stacks,” said Roxanne McElmell, an organizer of the Northwest’s farmers markets. “Literally, we are going to be up to our ears in corn.”
That’s why the Oro Valley and St. Philip’s Plaza markets are holding a corn festival. It will take place from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 16, in Oro Valley and Sunday, Aug. 17, at St. Philip’s Plaza.
The festival will feature corn Southwestern style — in jalapeno corn bread, tamales, empanadas, salsa, tortillas and chips.
“These are all handmade, beautiful corn tortillas and corn chips,” McElmell said. “The vendors do a beautiful job.”
For those with exotic tastes, there will be samples of a Japanese tea on ice, made of toasted rice and, of course, popcorn. It’s called gen mai cha, and it has a bread flavor, McElmell said.
The corn will come in the raw, too, by the trailer load. Drum roasters, reminiscent of Ferris wheels inside barrels, will cook it up for festivalgoers.
“We’ll have two going, so you can eat it at market or take it home and put it in salads,” McElmell said.
The corn comes in yellow, white and variegated varieties. Although it’s hardy desert corn, McElmell said, it’s wonderfully sweet.
“I know a lot of people from the Midwest who like it,” she said.
The festival, which is set to live Mexican harp music, will feature corn from farms in Wilcox and Amado.
A couple thousand people are expected for the event at the Oro Valley farmers market, up from about 500 during a normal week. The St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers Market attracts a bigger crowd each week but doesn’t see such a spike during special occasions.
“In Oro Valley, it seems people really love the festivals and come out for them,” McElmell said.
The farmers markets also have a citrus festival in January and a tomato basil festival in July. And from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20 and 21, the farmers markets will hold a chili festival.
People can buy 30-pound sacks of chilies, some of them the well-known Hatch chilies from Hatch, N.M., and in Oro Valley, the event will feature a chili cook-off.
“You get to see Oro Valley’s best chili,” McElmell said.
McElmell advised people to order their chilies in advance during the corn festival if they intend to buy more than a couple of quarts.
The weekly farmers markets in the Northwest feature local small businesses selling organic produce, fresh baked goods, custom-blended teas, fresh roasted coffees, meat from range-fed animals and gourmet soups and sauces.
The Oro Valley site is at Oro Valley Town Hall, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive. The St. Philip’s Plaza site at the southeast corner of Campbell Boulevard and River Road.
For more information, call 918-0911.