Fresh crop: North Coast sees growth of farmers markets

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Fresh vegetables from Kawano Farms of Oceanside are displayed at the Encinitas Station Farmers Market in August. (Photo by Ben Carlson)

Kelley Carlson

Farmers markets seem to be cropping up all over North County.

They can be found in every city, from Oceanside to Carmel Valley along the coast, and as far east as San Marcos, Escondido and Valley Center. And people are flocking to them to buy fresh produce, unique crafts, organic food products and colorful plants and flowers in an open and vibrant atmosphere.

Ron LaChance, who owns Blue Turtle Events and manages six farmers markets in San Diego County – including ones in Leucadia and La Costa – attributes their growing popularity to the fact that people are realizing the food is healthier and often offered at cheaper prices than the supermarket. The farmers market produce is usually picked within a day of the market, ensuring more nutrients than items found at the grocery store – which usually has at least several weeks of turnaround time between harvesting and sales, LaChance said.

“It’s so fresh and healthy – it’s what most of America is leaning toward,” he said.

“It’s the best health insurance you can get,” added Raquel Peña, who manages the farmers market in downtown Encinitas and owns the one in Rancho Santa Fe.

She touted other benefits, as well, which people are starting to realize.

“Farmers markets help promote cooking in the kitchen, family time … meeting the farmers … we’ve gone back in time,” Peña said. “It’s a way of connecting with the grower.”

They’re also a positive influence on children, she noted. Children now have more of an opportunity to see and interact with growers. Furthermore, farmers markets are becoming social gathering places. Peña said she sees people constantly hugging in greeting.

“Farmers markets bring the community together,” she said. “They support the local economy, farmers and producers. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Here is a look at a few of the markets near North County’s coast and what they offer:

Leucadia

The 8 1/2-year-old Leucadia Farmers Market – open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, rain or shine – provides “the complete experience,” according to LaChance.

Held at Paul Ecke Elementary School, 185 Union St., more than 90 vendors sell plants and flowers, fresh produce and specialty foods including pastas, seafood and beef, and there is a Certified Organic Section, as well.

Among the companies represented are Suzie’s Farm, based near the Tijuana Estuary; Sunflower Organics, which creates products from honey, bee pollen and jojoba oil; and Poppa’s Fresh Fish Co., which shells out fresh oysters and sea urchins.

However, not many sweets are found at the health-conscious Leucadia market, LaChance noted.

People can pick up breakfast or lunch in the food court and picnic in the shaded eating area. They can also kick back in the sprawling grassy area and enjoy the sounds of live entertainment. Meanwhile, children may climb around the playground, have their faces painted and delight in balloons.

Those who show up at the market via bike are specially rewarded with “Bicycle Bucks,” entitling them to $1 off any purchase.
The funds raised from vendors’ fees go to the Paul Ecke PTA and the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association.

La Costa

One of North County’s newest markets is at La Costa Canyon High School, held between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Established in August, the market benefits the La Costa Canyon High School Foundation and so far features about 40 vendors. But “it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” LaChance said.

Vendors include Cosgrove Cymbidium Co., a family-run business that grows plants and flowers on Saxony Road in Encinitas; Terra Verde Foods, a specialty foods business that sells artisan items such as salad dressings, sauces and jams prepared from recipes that have been in the family for years; Lazy R’s Back Yard Bargains, which creates original handmade gifts with Tillandsias (air plants); and brand-new La Costa-based business Arepas Papachon, which prepares grilled Venezuelan corn meal hot pockets stuffed with a choice of meats, cheese, black beans or avocado on site.

Maggie of La Costa, who declined to provide her last name, was a recent first-time visitor to the market. She used to visit the farmers market in Ocean Beach, and seemed to be satisfied with this new one that is practically in her backyard.

“They have fresher food, organic food,” she said of her decision to shop at farmers markets.

Downtown Encinitas

Another of the newer markets is the Encinitas Station Farmers Market, in Lot B on the corner of Vulcan Avenue and E Street. The project was spearheaded by the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association and came to fruition in April.

More than 50 vendors have tables at the event, held every Wednesday. The market is open from 5 to 8 p.m. May through September, and from 4 to 7 p.m. October through April. Visitors can expect to find fresh produce, flowers, specialty meats and cheeses, and artisan products such as gluten-free goods and breads. Businesses represented include Nicolau Farms, which produces goat cheese; Spring Hill Dairy; Rancho Santa Fe’s Loic Patisserie; La Isla Ceviche; and Sundial Farm, which grows hydroponic vegetables in Vista.

Rancho Santa Fe

Sponsored by the Helen Woodward Animal Center, the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is open from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sundays at 16079 San Dieguito Road in Fairbanks Ranch’s Del Rayo Center. Complimentary valet service begins at 10 a.m.

About 40 companies set up booths there, with everything from fruits and vegetables to flowers and artisan dog treats, and freshly roasted coffee beans.

Peña, the owner, said she attempts to visit as many of the vendors’ farms as possible to see what the facilities are like and to ensure that they’re growing what they say they’re growing.

A partial list of vendors includes Sage Mountain Organics of Temecula Valley, strawberry producer Kawano Farms, Archi’s Acres of Valley Center and French Basketeer, which sells fair-trade baskets and more.

For children, there is a weekly booth where they can stop by and participate in activities such as coloring farm-related pictures or making cards. There is also a monthly gardening craft event.

Occasionally, there is entertainment, too – recently, Joef Fargier of the Gipsy Kings performed.

Carlsbad

The Carlsbad Village Business Association presents the Carlsbad Village Farmers Market from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2930 Roosevelt St., between Grand Avenue and Carlsbad Village Drive.

Patrons will discover local fruits and vegetables – including organic varieties – along with homemade and imported items such as popcorn, tamales and burritos, farm-fresh eggs, granola and fresh-squeezed juice. Nonfood products include seashell crafts, natural skin care items, jewelry and hand-crafted fashions.

Solana Beach

Customers at the Solana Beach Farmers Market can sip on milk from a fresh coconut while strolling among tables of pastries, breads, soaps, organic produce, freshly cut flowers, clothing, meats and jewelry between 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays on Cedros Avenue at Rosa Street.

According to the market’s website, there are representatives from places such as the Carlsbad Strawberry Co., Mountain Meadow Mushrooms, California Olive, Natural Twist Bakery, Flip Flop Whimsy and Botanicals by the Sea.

After browsing, many people stop by the food court for treats from a number of vendors. Gourmet Tamales, Cassie’s Crepes and Power Up Juice are just a few examples.

Del Mar

From 1 to 4 p.m. every Saturday, the Del Mar Farmers Market sets up in the City Hall parking lot, 1050 Camino del Mar. Started in 1986, it’s the second-oldest farmers market in the region.

The market benefits the community – it has supported the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, the Del Mar Library, the construction of the Community Services/Lifeguard Headquarters, Community Connections and scholarships for students of growers who participate in the Del Mar Farmers Market.

People will find plants and flowers from businesses such as KG Growers; prepared foods, including those from Kettle Korn of San Diego; produce from certified farmers, including Valdivia Farms and Smit Orchards; and poultry, fish and meat products from Eben-Haezer Egg Ranch and other vendors.

As summer is wrapping up, farmers market visitors will likely notice that seasonal fruits such as peaches, plums and pears will be getting harder to find. However, the fall forecast calls for apples, grapes, more holiday-themed items, squash, beans, zucchini and pumpkins.

“Think Thanksgiving dinner,” LaChance said.

For a full list of farmers markets around San Diego County, go to http://sdfarmbureau.org/BuyLocal/Farmers-Markets.php.

Kelley Carlson is a North County freelance writer