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Farmers Market Update: Cheapest Produce Ever

by | May 24, 2009


And now for something completely different.

In a break from my usual elitist glory San Francisco farmers market adventure, I took a field trip this weekend to sunny Southern California where I discovered the cheapest produce I have ever seen in this state. Seriously, it was crazy.

Normally I prefer to hit up either the Irvine or Santa Monica markets when I’m in the OC. But this Saturday wasn’t amenable to a drive across town so instead I visited the Orange County Marketplace at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on Sunday. It is open 7am to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays, admission $2.

The OC Marketplace is really more of a swap meet than a farmers market, but there is a whole section for fresh produce. At the vegetable stands I found what I consider typical Southern California fare–tomatoes, avocados, citrus, squash and peppers–with a few seasonal items mixed in. I saw nothing particularly exotic, and the quality of produce ranged from not-so-hot to pretty good.

What is truly remarkable about this place is the prices.

Cheap Berries

Cheap Berries

Cheap Asparagus

Cheap Asparagus

Asparagus is typically $3-7 dollars per bunch at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. At the OC Marketplace it was $0.99. Berries, typically $3-6 per basket (even at the supermarket), dropped in price while we waited in line from (I kid you not) a ridiculously cheap 3 baskets for $2, to a mind-bogglingly cheap 4 baskets for $2. And from what I could tell they were perfectly ripe and in excellent condition.

Have you ever seen 7 white peaches for $1? I have.

Cheap Apricots

Cheap Apricots

Cheap Peaches

Cheap Peaches

Honestly, I don’t get it. If any of you can explain to me how this market can practically give away groceries I would love to know the reason.

My best guess is these are simply whole sale prices. In other words, these are the same goods grocery stores buy and sell to you for a higher price. The quality of produce was certainly more on par with grocery stores than what I have seen at other Southern California markets. And I doubt much of it was organic, though few items were clearly marked.

Alternatively these vendors could be offering a mix of whole sale and local fare. It wasn’t clear to me if/how any of the offerings were locally grown. This being California, however, it seems logical that at least some of the goods come from the area. When I asked someone where the food was from the answer I got was “the L.A. market,” which obviously is not a farm.

My worst fear is that much of this produce comes from the horrible slave farms that are starting to be exposed. Hopefully that isn’t true.

The source of this produce may be a little dubious, but I cannot imagine you finding a better deal anywhere in Orange County. If organic and local are less important to you than simply affording fresh healthy food, a trip to the OC Marketplace is easily worth the price of admission.

For you Bay Area readers, I’ve seen similar deals at the Ashby market in Berkeley (no admission fee).

Do you know anything about these swap meet style produce vendors?

Note: Since it is Memorial Day there will not be a new post on Monday. We’ll be back Wednesday–same Tomato time, same Tomato channel.

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Fresh Berries

by | Jul 30, 2008

UPDATE: Experiment underway (see pic).

UPDATE2: Success!! No mold!

Berries are a bit of an enigma, but I think I’m getting to the bottom of it. I noticed that whenever I buy raspberries, blackberries or boysenberries at a regular grocery store they grow moldy very quickly, sometimes in less than a day. And at $4.00 for half a pint, who can afford that gamble?!

Traditionally blueberries have been a safer bet, they have fewer wet spots where mold likes to grow. But I really only care for the taste of the organic ones (one of the downsides of having an over-developed gustatory sense), so they can still be hard to get.

But I think I made a discovery this morning. It seems that if I buy my berries at the Farmers’ Market, they last much longer. Today for breakfast (a combo of Dorset Cereal’s muesli and Flax Plus by Nature’s Path) I finished off the blackberries and there wasn’t yet even a hint of mold. This is the third time in a row I have come out of the market with mold-free berries. They taste better than the store bought ones as well and are the same price or less.

My theory is that they are fresher. The guy I bought them from said they were “picked yesterday,” which on Saturday meant Friday. All that shipping of the mass-produced berries at Whole Foods must be too much for the delicate little guys.

Anyone else have any tricks for keeping berries fresh and mold-free?

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