Nothing is more relaxing to me than heading out to the farmers' market. It delights the senses with vibrant colors, a bounty of new and familiar temptations for the palate, music floating on the breeze, the air tinged with the sweet smell of peaches, the ripe scent of tomatoes, and sharper scent of fresh herbs and potted plants. It's at the market that I experienced nectaplums, jujubes, French apricots, and squash blossoms, amongst other rare hybrids and seasonal treasures.
Everyone heads out to the Mountain View market on Sunday mornings. Run by the California Farmers' Market Association, it remains the most attended in the Bay Area. But if you haven't attended its twin in Los Altos on Thursday evenings, you are missing out. It's run by the same group, and features a mix of fresh produce and food booths so you can enjoy dinner at the market, said Ryan Slover from the Market Association. You'll find some of your favorites from the Sunday market, as well as some locals that are exclusive to Thursday nights.
"It's a great opportunity to pick up some local produce mid-week, enjoy dinner, and stroll with the family." Slover says.
The Thursday night market is seasonal, running from the first week in May through the last week in September. This year, the last market day is on Sept. 29.
Peter Dietzel, another Market Association official, adds that they plan to have several tastings throughout the summer. "Everyone who has gala apples, for example, will enter and we'll have a panel and judge who has the best."
If you aren't an aficionado of farmers' markets, you can't get fresher produce than the Los Altos market unless you grow it yourself. Coming from just four miles away, Hidden Villa brings meat, eggs, and a variety of vegetables to the market. They are an educational farm that has day camps for kids, and all of their animals are humanely-raised and slaughtered.
When I ask Aspen Kvicala , the farm's animal husbandry intern, if Hidden Villa's chickens are free-range, she laughs. "You bet, because I'm the one who has to herd them up at night and get them inside, and it takes me forever. They're the happiest chickens I've ever seen!" Harvesting their small selection on the day of the market, this is the locavore pick for those who like to eat as close to home as possible.
Most of the farmers come a greater distance to be at the market. Geri Prevedelli-Lathrop and her stepson drive from Watsonville each week. Their family-owned Prevedelli Farms goes back four generations. "While most people think strawberries when they think Watsonville, we have 32 different types of apples alone, plus boysenberries, ollalieberries and pears," she said.
It's all not eggs and berries at the market. There are baked goods, bread vendors, falafel stands, chicken, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, shaved ice and Afghan boulani. Local restaurants with stands include the Oaxacan Kitchen and Spot: A Pizza Place.
I am particularly smitten with a booth run by two Mountain View residents: The g:m:me bakery. It stands for "granny to mom to me," representing the handing down of traditional Irish recipes like soda bread and scones. It's run by Matt and Yvonne Klinksick, who lived in Limerick, Ireland until three years ago. They make lovely (and highly addictive) scones. After sampling the chocolate chip scone (which Matt declared is a popular seller), I tasted the seasonal strawberry and the apricot (which Matt also declared a popular seller). "My wife is really the baking genius. I hand out the samples!" Matt joked. But I walked away with multiple scones, so Matt isn't too shabby on the sales side, either.
There is always an unusual find at the market. Krunchy Kale from Mighty Mouth foods was invented by local woman Rachel Phelps, who started selling it at farmers' markets. It's been picked up by Country Sun, DeMartini's and Whole Foods. Besides the baked kale snack with various toppings like cashews or balsamic vinegar, they have expanded their line to include Grainola, a mix of whole grains including buckwheat, spelt, pumpkin seeds, and honey; Uncookies made of banana and oats; and probably their tastiest offering to date, Flackers flax seed crackers.
There are also plants and flowers at the market. Will Wiersig of Wiersig Garden Plants, who has been at the market since 2005, started his Los Altos-based nursery with his brother, bringing tea roses, herbs, peppers, eggplants and advice to the public. "This is really my only opportunity to interact with the customers, and we keep seeing friends, and people we know, and we just got hooked in and we keep coming back. I also learned a lot about food here, talking to the other farmers," he said. "It's amazing how little I knew until I started coming to the market. My friends think everything at the supermarket is organic. They have no idea!"
I was raised going to farmers' markets in my hometown of Chico, a farming community, so I know how willing the farmers are to share knowledge along with their samples. Farmers' markets are treasures, an extension of the community. A mid-week market that allows you to unwind after work, restock the crisper and not have to get up early is truly a joy. The market is an easy way to eat locally grown food, and be informed about what you eat. Get to know the vendors, bring your own bags or basket, and bring enough cash, preferably in small bills.
The Los Altos Farmers' Market
First week of May until last week of September
Hours: 4:30 p.m. -8 p.m.
State Street between 2nd and 4th streets
California Farmers' Markets Association