Forbidden Fruit: Cut out those snakey middlemen with a visit to the farmers market.
Locals flock to the venerable Aptos Farmers Market and its popular 'Shop With the Chef' series
By Janet Blaser
It's a typical summer Saturday morning, and Aptos is as Aptos does: chilly fog, bits of blue sky, people out and about getting started on their weekend. At Cabrillo, something's starting, too, although start-time for the 60-some vendors of the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Market was many hours earlier, when trucks were loaded in darkness, preparing to make the trek. Now, as 8am rolls around, they're readying for the more than 2,500 regular customers that will soon arrive, in dribs and drabs and then, suddenly, a wave and the place will be packed to the brim. These folks will poke and taste and smell and squeeze their way through a vast array of fruits and veggies, flowers and plants, meats, seafood and ready-made foodstuffs, all the while socializing like there's no tomorrow with scores of new and old friends who are here doing the same thing, week after week, all year round. On a holiday weekend--say, Memorial Day--the numbers are staggering: 102 cases of cherries, 1,800 ears of corn, 600 bouquets of flowers, almost 1,000 pounds of Corralitos meat and 800 pounds of tomatoes, all sold in a four-hour span.
This year celebrates the 30th anniversary for the market. Granted, it wasn't always at Cabrillo; it actually started where Live Oak Elementary School is now, midcounty, at the corner of 17th and Capitola Road. Four farmers with a vision came up with the then-radical idea of an outdoor market where farmers would sell directly to the public, bypassing any middlemen and the unprofitable wholesale business. Jerry Thomas, whose Aptos farm yields field flowers, garlic, seasonal vegetables and fruit; egg farmer Bob Harris, quietly boxing and selling his flavorful, colorful eggs; Watsonville farmer Manuel Netto (apricots and vegetables); and 92-year-old Nick Pasqual, who works his Watsonville flower and vegetable farm by hand--they still sell at the Cabrillo market and several of the others managed by the nonprofit group they started, now called the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Market. While some things have changed--increased rules and regulations by a smorgasbord of city, state and federal bodies, for instance--others have remained the same. Only "certified" farmers may sell at the markets, meaning you have to grow what you sell: no middlemen are allowed. The family-feel of the market is genuine; as the years have gone by, farms have passed from grandfather to son and then to the next generation yet again. Rarely does a space become available, and the waiting list that never moves has a reputation among other farmers who have waited years to get into this highly successful market. The small, family farm is respected here, and although you'll find some young, newbie farmers in the ranks, the vast majority are weathered, hard-working "lifers" who can recount a 15-year history of the havoc of early spring rainfall or bug infestations without missing a beat.
"Shop With the Chef," a summer series begun last year, has proven to be wildly popular, surprising even market manager Catherine Barr, who after 14 years knows her clientele as though this was a small corner store with a handful of patrons instead of the multilocation, 3,000-plus-customers-a-week business it is.
Catherine had noticed folks following some of the chefs who regularly shop at the market, asking questions about recipes and what they were buying. She arranged for a demonstration area, with electricity and a canopy for the chef and chairs for the audience. It took off "like gangbusters," she said, with up to 70 people watching the cooking demonstration and 25-30 accompanying the chef on his walk-through as he buys the produce he'll cook with. Recipes are handed out (and also available on the market website) and you do get to taste at the end. It's so successful, the series has been extended into the fall.
"We have unique chefs that show you how to use odd stuff, produce you don't know how to cook with," she said. "It gets you out of your box, out of your safety zone."
Shop With the Chef upcoming events, with 8:30am walk-about, 10am demonstration: Saturday, Aug. 12, Justin Severino/Ol' Factory; Saturday, Sept. 9, Rebecca King/Gabriella Café.
The Aptos Farmers Market happens every Saturday year-round, 8am-noon, at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Find out more by calling 831.728.5060 or at www.montereybayfarmers.org.
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