Learning about the farmers market, one piece of produce at a time

Learning about the farmers market, one piece of produce at a time

Learning about the farmers market, one piece of produce at a time
Concord Farmers Market. (Pete Cruz photo)

CONCORD, CA (Mar. 21, 2023) — We’ve received quite a few questions about the farmers market in the last few months, such as whether farmers always sell what they grow, when produce will arrive at the market and why we don’t sell certain items. This month, I will endeavor to answer them.

Q: Where do the farmers get the produce they sell?

A: The Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association operates only certified farmers markets. These markets are the only place, other than the farm itself, where California law allows farmers to sell their fruits and vegetables directly to consumers. At a certified farmers market, all produce and farm products are certified by local county agricultural commissioners and can only be sold by the California farms that grew them. So, yes, the farmers are offering only what they’ve harvested from their farms.

Q: Why aren’t there bananas at the market?

A: Believe it or not, this is one of the questions we get asked most often. The answer is easy: Bananas are very difficult to grow in California. Though many farmers have tried, they have discovered that our climate is just not suitable for growing tropical fruits. The bananas you see at the grocery store come from humid, southern climates and are often transported large distances to arrive on the shelves.

California can be hot enough, but not nearly humid enough, to produce fruits that thrive in tropical climates. Since farmers can only bring to market what they grow, you won’t find bananas at California’s certified farmers markets anytime soon.

Q: Why can’t I find figs at the market? And, where are all the persimmons now?

A: Well, one reason you can’t find a product is that the crop is not ready to harvest yet due to weather or a change in what the farmers grows. But the main reason is that produce grows with the seasons, and each fruit or vegetable has a different growing season.

Ever since I began going to farmers markets many moons ago, my mantra was to try to “eat with the seasons” as much as I could. I’m not always successful because I like my tomatoes too much. But it’s the effort that counts, along with the understanding that your favorite fruits and vegetables may not be available yearround.

Farming practices are always evolving and changing, so some farmers might use greenhouses to grow, protect, and harvest crops like strawberries and tomatoes almost year-round. But not all produce can be grown this way.

Sure, you see tomatoes and grapes in the grocery store in mid-winter. Those items come from countries in the southern hemisphere, like Chile and Australia, that have seasons opposite to ours. If you can’t find figs or persimmons at the farmers market in March, it’s because these fruits are harvested from late summer to fall. Learning what produce is in season will help you plan ahead and get you eating with the seasons. Visit our website to see what’s currently in season.

Eating with the seasons

The big question is, why should I eat with the seasons anyway? First, eating something that’s ripe, fresh, and just picked is a whole lot tastier than eating something that traveled across several countries and was most likely picked underripe. Don’t take my word for it: Try biting into a big ripe peach or tomato that’s just been harvested.

A bonus to eating with the seasons is that it is less expensive overall – and with the cost of living increasing, we need all the help we can get. It’s cheaper to buy something that’s in season when quantities and varieties are readily available. An additional benefit to eating in season is that research has shown that the produce is more nutritionally dense because it’s had time to ripen naturally. Eating with the seasons and eating foods from local farms is also better for the environment. Fruits and vegetables taste better when they don’t need to catch a flight or cross the ocean to get on your plate.

We’re not saying don’t have a tomato in March if you want one. Just remember it won’t taste as good as one fresh off the vine in July. Buy from your local farmers market often and you will be rewarded with the best tasting produce you’ve ever had, while helping local farmers. Happy munching.

If you have questions about your farmers market, please send them to deardeb@pcfma.org.

Debra Morris

Debra Morris was born and raised in Pasadena, CA. Her father was a landscape designer so she grew up helping him in the garden and learned to love planting and caring for vegetables and flowers. Debra began her own graphics business in 2002. She now works for the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association and became a Master Gardener in the process, combining her interests into one.