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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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Farmers Market Update: Irvine

by | Mar 1, 2009

Avocados and Clementines

avocados and clementines

You may have guessed from the title that I am in Southern California, not San Francisco this weekend. Yesterday I found myself at the Irvine Farmers Market (near UC Irvine), and it was really awesome. You Orange County readers out there should definitely check this place out if you haven’t yet.

For me, the strangest thing about this excursion was the seasons down here are so different than they are where I live. I haven’t seen berries, summer squash or eggplants in San Francisco for months. But the sweet aroma of ripe strawberries filled the air here in Irvine. I guess it makes sense, since in this neighborhood summer lasts 11 months of the year (Did I mention it was 87 degrees?). Honestly, the warm air and change of scenery was welcome.

baby Indian eggplant
Despite these oddities, the normal winter fare was abundant as well. Citrus is thriving, as you might expect in Orange County. There were also plenty of the standard winter greens and squash. Multiple vendors sold specialty eggs, meats and cheeses. And there was no lack of exotic Asian ingredients, which I appreciate.

daikon and Taiwan celery
There were only two things that annoyed me about this market. First, the hours are not nearly long enough, 8am-12pm. I think it would be better for shopper and vendor alike if they stayed open until 2pm. Also, parking was a real pain. Combat both of these problems by going early.

Since I am on vacation I do not have a list of purchases from this trip, but I do have plenty of pictures.

Have you ever been to the Irvine Farmers Market? Any tips or suggestions?

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