It’s harvest time, which means farmers’ markets across North America are bursting with the bounty of the season. Earlier this summer we were lucky enough to visit the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco. Wow. The boys begged for berries and baby carrots in shades of purple, yellow and orange – I was happy to oblige. They keep asking if we can go back – I could easily be convinced that a quick jaunt back would be worth the plane fare.
The berries were astounding – such a treat to see so many local varieties, compared to the wee spurt we get in Alberta. Whenever I visit a new city I make a point of seeking out a farmers’ market so that I can connect with local growers, see what they’re doing and taste what they grow. It’s a great way to get to know a new area, and begin to understand its food culture.
“At the farmers market – they’re growing for the consumer, not the grocery store,” says food concierge Lisa Rogovin, owner of edible excursion tour company In the Kitchen With Lisa. “You’ll find six to seven kinds of plums versus two to three types of stone fruit offered in the grocery store. I support farmers markets because I know the food is fresh and I enjoy supporting local farmers. I still learn something new every time I visit the farmers market and am introduced to a new fruit or vegetable – like amber apricots!”
It’s not just about supporting local farmers, but being on the receiving end of the freshest produce that has traveled as few miles as possible from farm to plate. “Grocery stores use preservatives on produce so they will survive the shipping and storing time, Hayden adds. “It’s rubbery and tasteless, but it looks great. Once you’ve had a real sugar-ripened strawberry, you’re hooked.” Hayden claims that it can take two weeks for supermarket produce to arrive at a family’s table from the time it leaves the farm.
Dave Stockdale, executive director of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), concurs. “The peeled uniform carrots you buy at a major grocery chain are crunchy, pretty and void of taste – they’re groomed for their beauty, but not sold for taste or nutritional value.”
Farmers markets became popular in the 1980s, after California legislation deregulated the “uniform” size law so farmers could sell crops that fell outside of the bell curve of shipping standards.
San Francisco’s proximity to the bounty of fresh varieties of California farms has made its markets some of the best in the nation.
It’s a popular misconception that all farmers markets are organic. While many of the farms represented at the markets use organic practices, they may not be certified as organic. “Some farmers feel the organic standards for certification have become deluted, and certification costs extra money and a lot of paperwork, so they have let their certificates lapse because of time or money,” says Stockdale. According to Hayden, only 18 to 25 percent of farms are certified organic because it’s difficult to receive certification, and it can deplete the farmer’s profit margin.
Stockdale continues that while the Ferry Building Farmers Market may not have all certified organic farms represented, CUESA is strict when it comes to making sure that the farms are sustainable. “Nobody sells here without receiving regular visits to their farms,” he confirms.
Sustainability is measured on how the farm manages pests, the source of irrigation, the technology used for irrigation, and the benefits the farms provide their employees.
The San Francisco Ferry Building hosts up to 80 farmers who are certified producers, who grow the products they sell at the markets. For the consumer, this means the produce they buy is fresh.
The Saturday and Tuesday farmers market at the San Francisco Ferry Building also supports non-certified market sellers – vendors who have prepared jams and jellies, baked goods and coffee with ingredients from local farms. CUESA makes sure that these vendors adhere to sustainable practices as well.
“It makes for a fuller market experience,” says Stockdale. “We want consumers to come here and buy everything they need for the week – including jams, nuts and cheeses.”
Different from many farmers markets, the Ferry Building also focuses on education. The Saturday market has programs where a local farmer is interviewed, and a local chef conducts a cooking demonstration using in-season ingredients found at the market. Sometimes CUESA features a visiting food writer or chef.
There are evening programs as well, and all on-site programs are free to the public and available on Saturdays and Tuesdays during the summer. For schedules and topics, visit www.cuesa.org.
By enrolling in a specialized tour, farmers market enthusiasts may also learn about what restaurants do with the farm-fresh produce found at the markets. Rogovin organizes “Parties That Cook” market-to-table tours so that visitors can make the connection from the market to the restaurant and see it in action.
“They are able to learn how local chefs use the ingredients in recipes,” Rogovin says. Her shop, cook, eat and dine program gives visitors an inside look into a restaurant’s kitchen. Participants shop for ingredients at the farmers market, return to the restaurant, prep the food, cook with the ingredients and then enjoy their creation.
“Farmers markets also instill a sense of community – a connection with people,” Rogovin adds. “You get to meet other foodies. You can ask questions and get answers. It’s very rare when you’re at a super market where they will slice open an orange or apple and let you taste it.”
To experience the fresh bounty from local farmers, there are plenty of markets to visit in San Francisco:
Alemany Farmers Market (Mission/Bernal Heights)
Saturdays: 6 a.m –3 p.m.
100 Alemany Blvd.
Bayview Hunters Point Farmers Market (SOMA/Potrero Hill)
Wednesdays: 8:30 a.m.-Noon
Bayview Opera House/Ruth Williams Memorial Theatre
4705 Third St.
Crocker Galleria Farmers Market (Union Square/Financial District)
Thursdays: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
50 Post St.
Divisadero Farmers Market (Alamo Square)
Sundays: 10 am. to 2 p.m
Grove St., at Divisidero
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Embarcadero)
Tuesdays: 10 a.m-2 p.m.
Saturdays: 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
1 Ferry Plaza
Fort Mason Center Farmers’ Market (Marina)
Sundays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. through October
Fort Mason Center
Heart of the City Farmers Market (Civic Center)
Wednesdays: 7:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Sundays: 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Market St. (between Seventh and Eighth streets)
Haight-Ashbury Market (Haight-Ashbury)
Wednesdays, April-October, 4-8 p.m.,
Waller St. off Stanyan St. in Golden Gate Park
Inner Sunset Farmers’ Market (Inner Sunset)
Sundays: 9 a.m.- 1 p.m.;
In the parking lot between 8th and 9th avenues
Kaiser Permanente Farmers Market (Richmond District)
Wednesdays: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
2425 Geary Blvd.
Parking is available at the Kaiser Hospital Garage at 2190 O’Farrell St.
Mission Community Market
Thursdays: 4-8 p.m.
Bartlett St. 21st and 22nd streets
Noe Valley Farmers Market (Noe Valley)
Saturdays: 8 a.m -1 p.m.
3861 24th St. between Vicksburg and Sanchez streets
Live music at 10 a.m.
Parkmerced San Francisco Farmers Market (Sunset District)
First Saturday of June through October
Saturdays: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Serrano Drive and Arballo Drive