The Market Report ~ Week of May 12th

Stenciled "Farmer's Market" sign

My CSA box is delivered every other Wednesday. On the off weeks, I can now mosey down to the brand new Haight Street farmer’s market in my neighborhood, which also takes place on Wednesdays!

This week I still had tons and tons of produce left from my box and a trip to the store, so there was nothing I really needed. I couldn’t help wandering down there just to check it out, of course. It’s a medium-sized market. Definitely more stands than the little Kaiser market which used to be one of my closest farmer’s markets, with maybe five stands of mixed produce and a couple more with something specific, like strawberries or peaches. I only had a few dollars with me, because I wasn’t really expecting to buy anything, but then I was thrilled to see the Kashiwase Farms stand, with crate upon crate of white peaches! I like strawberries but I also find them inherently unsatisfying (I know, I’m strange), and so it’s been me and the citrus fruits for many months now.

The man at the Kashiwase stand told me these peaches were nothing compared to what he’ll have in the weeks to come, but the samples tasted like heaven to me! I got a lesson on picking peaches without squeezing and bruising them half to death (push gently right around the stem opening, just like choosing a melon, and then pick a mix of fruit that are soft and firm in that area) and picked out four beautiful, sweet, juicy peaches to take home with me and gloat over.

Crates of peaches at the farmer's market

The rest of the stands are either specialty products, like raw milk and butter, nuts, or honey, or prepared foods. The market has everything from baked goods to Afghani and Indian prepared meals. Cruising around the market it seemed like those stands were getting by far the most attention. It always seems a little weird to me when the proportion of prepared food stands is greater than the produce stands, but from their popularity they are clearly a very welcome addition to the markets. (Or maybe they were so crowded because they all give away delicious samples!)

Crowds gathered around the prepared food stands

I thought I might get away with just my peaches, but then I went all the way to the back of the market to check out the stand that sold me a delicious bunch of gai lan last time I was there. This time they had huge bunches of fresh amaranth, which I’ve been wanting to try for ages. The bunch I bought was so big it filled almost my entire canvas shopping bag!

Bunches of fresh amaranth

The amaranth, while inexpensive and a great deal, to boot, used up the rest of the cash I had on me. So I just strolled around for a while and checked out what else looked good and abundant. There were some beautiful multicolored chards, looking about as shiny and bright as any chard I’ve ever seen, and of course a multitude of fresh spring onions and garlics with their tops still attached. The other abundant item was my produce nemesis, the fava bean. (One of the best things about FFTY, my CSA, is that it lets me say which veggies I absolutely don’t want in my box. I am pretty much a lover of all produce, but I can’t eat bell peppers and I won’t eat favas, so having that option really reduces the amount of stuff from my box I end up giving away or throwing away.)

Bunches of chard with red, pink, and yellow stalks
Spring onions (red and white) and garlic, with their green tops
A giant crate of fava beans

The Market Report!

Dogs wait patiently in front of Farmer's Market banner

Yes, I totally stole that title from one of my favorite food podcasts, KCRW’s Good Food. Every week they do a segment called “The Market Report” where they talk to the head of the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market about what’s on offer at the market. Well, guess what, babies? At long last In My Box gets to do a Market Report of our very own!

Today I attended the grand opening of my neighborhood’s new farmer’s market! I’m sure there are locals who have been buzzing about this for weeks or months, but I had no idea it was coming until someone tossed a small, colorful flyer onto my steps a few days ago announcing that a farmer’s market was coming to the Upper Haight! I felt almost guilty when I saw the flyer, like this was something I should have sweated and struggled to earn and here it was being given to me for free. If I had known there were people out there advocating for a farmer’s market for this neighborhood – which has two nice neighborhood produce markets (with local produce? who knows?) and a very pricey Real Foods, but no supermarket since Cala closed in 2005 – I would have signed the petition, marched in the rally, phoned the district representative (who apparently is the one who made this market possible, by “simplifying and lowering the fees required to operate farmers’ markets on Rec and Park property” – go Ross Mirakimi!). But instead I just get to wake up one morning and stroll down the street to buy some farm-fresh produce.

People shopping at the farmer's market

I don’t know if this was by coincidence or design, but the timing of the Farmer’s Market overlaps with one of the two days the library Bookmobile (which is replacing our under-renovation library branch for the next year or so) comes to the neighborhood – and the Bookmobile parks mere yards from where the market takes place. So now I’m just in total heaven – one-stop shopping for books and beets? Life doesn’t get any better than this!

The SF library Bookmobile

So of course I’m now getting my CSA box again, but I’m having it come only every other week, on the theory that one “Regular” box, which is supposed to be enough for two people for a week, at least, should hold me over for two with a bit of supplementation. But here I am at exactly one week out from my box delivery, and here’s what I have left in my box: Braeburn apple, Minneola tangelo, Hass avocado, celery, Romaine lettuce, carrots, artichokes, Garnet sweet potatoes (I keep a real-time update of my box contents on the Meal by Meal page). All these are yummy, but they’re not really the right type of veggies to build another week of meals.

Oh no! With one full week to go before her next box, whatever will our heroine do? How will she combat the forces of pellagra and rickets without her daily dose of leafy green vegetables? Enter the magical, unearned and unlooked for but now greatly heralded Haight-Ashbury Farmer’s Market! Hurrah! (The deus ex machina rarely shows up in my life in such an obvious fashion, but this one was a doozy.)

Turnips, carrots, radishes, beets, and daikon

So I went down to the market to see what was on offer. Mostly beets, strawberries, spring lettuces, dandelion greens, spring onions, and spring garlic. (Notice a theme here?) Also lots of dill and a few other herbs, some carrots and cabbages. One place with turnips and daikon. Another with spinach, bok choy, and my very absolute favorite vegetable in the world, gai lan, often called Chinese broccoli. (That’s it below, between the spinach and the bok choy.)

Spinach, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and bok choyIt used to be extremely rare to find organically grown versions of any of the Asian veggies which are more “exotic” than bok choy and napa cabbage. The place that had this gai lan was one of those “we aren’t certified because certification is very expensive but we don’t use pesticides or any sprays” type of farms. I tend to want to believe these veggies are just as organic as those without certification, but when I asked the farmer if they used chemical fertilizer she said no, no, they use “regular fertilizer.” Which I assume means synthetic fertilizer, unless she was feeling too polite to say “chicken shit.” Oh well, at a certain point I have to just be glad to find some nice gai lan grown by a nice lady who hopefully isn’t secretly poisoning me. This is something that I’ve never seen come in my CSA box and I am really, really going to enjoy having it.

Farmer's Market woman who sold me gai lan (Chinese broccoli)

It felt like I was shelling out cash like crazy – I always feel like that at the Farmer’s Market – but when I got home, looked at my haul, and realized I’d spent less than ten dollars, I was pretty pleased. Between Rainbow (my organic food co-op where almost everything is locally sourced) and my CSA, I have no idea how much produce “really” costs or is “supposed to” cost anymore. I read the crazy coupon circulars that got shoved through my mailbox today and Safeway and Foodco are offering avocados and bunches of radishes and green onions at 3 for 99 cents, and I certainly didn’t pay those kind of prices today. But as long as I can afford it (barely) I’m going to keep trying to buy food straight from farmers, and to pay them the prices they ask without feeling “ripped off” or anxious that I’m not getting a good deal. Farming is hard, risky business (uh oh, wasn’t I up on this soapbox once already this week?) and I have so much gratitude to the people who take it on, especially those who are trying to practice good stewardship of the land as well.

My haul: cabbage, gai lan, green onions, dill, beets with beet greens, dandelion greens

My haul: cabbage, gai lan, green onions, dill, beets with beet greens, dandelion greens

I’m really ridiculously excited about my new treats. I haven’t been to a farmer’s market in a long time, and it was really great to get reconnected to that sense of what’s in season that you get from looking at six different stands and seeing the same types of produce on each one. I’m looking forward to creating next week’s menu and incorporating my finds. I already have reworked this Sunday’s meal. It was going to be eggplant and chickpea stew, but shopping at the farmer’s market showed me that eggplant and zucchini are not currently being grown by my local farmers. So I decided to make something with what was in abundance – beets! Sunday’s dinner will now be darling Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe‘s Beetroot, Beet Greens, and Chickpea Curry. I can’t wait!

(Oh boy… not to be a downer at the end of such a zesty, life-affirming post, but I just want to say that I am aware of the many questionable issues surrounding SF farmer’s markets and whether they actually benefit farmers as much as we the consumers hope/assume they do. I definitely am interested in talking about this side of things, so don’t hesitate to share what you know. But just for today I’m going to enjoy the bliss of having a farmer’s market show up around the corner, just in the nick of time!)