Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Local Food: The Hillcrest Farmers' Market

Updated Sept. 9, 2007

This last Sunday morning, I climbed out of bed early, packed up my market basket, and headed to the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market with notebook and pen in hand. I was on a mission of no small importance: to take an inventory of the market.

Before you get too excited, I must state a disclaimer: I chose to focus on the vendors who are certified organic or are using sustainable practices, and who are also reasonably local (Los Angeles and south). There are plenty of great organic or sustainable vendors at this market such as
Smit Orchards from Stockton, CA (organic stone fruits), Lone Oak Ranch in Reedly, CA (produce), and Garma Farms near Bakersfield, CA (free-range eggs & pesticide-free produce), but they didn't make the list because of their distance from San Diego. There are also numerous non-organic, local farmers that I didn't include.

Hillcrest Farmers’ Market is one of the largest in the county and has a great diversity of sellers, which is why I chose to take my inventory there (and why I regularly shop there on Sunday mornings). Because the market is a certified California farmer’s market, all produce is supposed to be sold directly to you by the grower, be grown in California, and meet all California quality standards (this certification only applies to agricultural products and not to other items at the market); however, NBC San Diego did an interesting piece called
Farmers’ Market Fakes this last month, which may shake your confidence in those promises after all.

As with any purchase, you need to do your research. If your goal is to support small-scale, local farmers that are practicing sustainable or organic agriculture (as mine is), don’t assume that the vendor you are buying from fits that bill just because they are at the farmers’ market. Ask questions. You may be surprised to learn that vendors appearing to be small-scale farms are actually mega-farms practicing conventional agriculture. Or you may learn that a vendor at your local market is anything but local (the Hillcrest market has sellers from all over the state). All that said, decide what is important to you and then buy accordingly.

Here are some of the people you’ll want to get to know if you’re focusing on the local, organic/sustainable foodshed.

EGGS
San Pasqual Academy Vegetarian Eggs
(Ramona, CA).
The hens are not free-range but are kept four to a cage (with the roosters in their own cages). The farm has about 20,000 hens (down from over 100,000 in the past) and is run by Charley and Maria Steiner (this is no longer a San Pasqual Academy operation). They do not practice beak-cutting.

HONEY
Pure, Raw Honey by Sherrill M. East of Del Mar (Rancho Santa Fe, CA). These bees like wildflowers and eucalyptus, which makes for a flavorful honey. Find this at the same booth as the San Pasqual Academy eggs.

JAM
Jackie’s Jams (Ocean Beach, CA). Jackie Anderson and Robert Shaw, the proprietors of Jackie’s Jams, use all-natural ingredients (no pesticides), many of which are also organic and local, to make their old-fashioned jams. Check with them to find out which flavors contain local, organic fruit as it changes from time to time. They are releasing a cookbook, Just Add Jam, in the next couple weeks that will be available at their stand as well as on their website.

MUSHROOMS
Mountain Meadow Mushrooms (Escondido, CA). Used bedding hay from Del Mar racetrack along with some other additives such as cottonseed, gypsum, and peat moss are used to create a nitrogen-drenched compost for growing these great mushrooms. The farm goes to great lengths to make sure the water used at the farm does not run off into natural waterways but is instead recycled for use again on the farm. Excess compost is given away free to any farmers who need it.

Golden Gourmet Mushrooms (San Marcos, CA). Pick these up at the same booth as the mushrooms listed above. Only their Maitake, King Trumpet, Brown Beech and White Beech are Certified Organic. (Golden Gourmet Mushrooms are also available at Whole Foods, Jimbos, Sprouts, Henry's and Frazier Farms Stores, at some of the local Ralph's stores, and at the Vista and Del Mar Farmers' Markets.)

PRODUCE

Certified Organic:

J.R. Organics (Valley Center, CA). Vegetables. They always have a great selection of the best looking and more rare produce.

Sage Mountain Farm (Aguanga, CA). Vegetables.

Budwood Farms (Fallbrook, CA) Fruit and vegetables. They don’t have a sign indicating who they are, but you can find them by looking for the blue shades with
"Fallbrook, CA” written on the sides. They are usually in the northeast corner of the market.

Tom King Farms (Ramona, CA). Vegetables.

Pesticide-free:

Creekside Tropicals (Vista, Rainbow, Carlsbad, CA). Tropical fruits and vegetables. According to the gentlemen behind the table, the farm uses a sort of molasses blend for fertilizer (sorry, he started spouting words I didn't know, and my eyes glazed over). He insists it is not an artificial, chemical fertilizer.

J.B. Farms (Apple Valley, CA). Vegetables.

La Milpa Organica (Escondido, CA). Vegetables. I Heart Farms has written up two wonderful pieces about this farm. The first is a tour of the farm and the second is the Outstanding in the Field dinner hosted there in 2006.

Ted’s Farm (Temecula, CA). Vegetables. Ted always has a good selection of vegetables, though in small amounts. I’m unsure whether he uses chemical fertilizers, but am certain he does not use pesticides.

OTHER WORTHY MENTIONS

CHEESE
Winchester Cheese Co. (Winchester, CA). Gouda cheese. Not organic, but all their cheese is made from their own 500 dairy cows. I haven’t had the opportunity to research this company further to find out exactly what the living conditions are of their cows or what they are fed, but I take it as a positive sign that the company offer tours of their facilities for anyone who is interested. I’ll let you know when I learn more.

BREAD
Charlie's Best Breads (San Diego, CA). Although their grain comes from outside of the area, they use only organic and natural ingredients for their breads. These guys make just about every kind of bread that you can think up. In fact, they can make breads-to-order using your own recipe at their bakery on Garnet Avenue. Call them at 858-272-3521.

Bread & Cie (San Diego, CA). A local European-style bakery that sources their grains from elsewhere.

If you know a local vendor at the Hillcrest market that is organic/operates under sustainable practices and is missing from this list, please let me know and I will correct it. Keep in mind that even if you can’t make it to the Hillcrest market on Sunday mornings between 9 AM and 1 PM, you will find many of these same vendors at other farmers’ markets in the county. The San Diego County Farm Bureau maintains the farmers’ market listings for this county, so head there to find the one closest to you.

4 comments:

Elaine said...

Thank you for this awesome run down!

Melanie said...

Thanks, Elaine! I hope to do more of the same over the next couple months for other farmers' markets in the area.

Anonymous said...

melanie, my name is not important but i have been doing farmers markets for 15 years.i have started markets from lake tahoe to chula vista.if you only knew how you have only scraped the tip of the iceburg you would be shocked and dismayed at the greed induced deceptive practices these farmers are doing.these "farmers" are so entrenched that the local county ag offices cant bust them.many products labeled organic only have paperwork but are not and cannot be identied as such.smit ranch is run by a man who has a wholesale company and home deliverycalled california fruit company.with alittle research you should be able to track where fruit is being bought(dried fruit at

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