My Sunday mornings at the Mountain View Farmers Market aren't just about shopping for healthy fresh food. It's much more than that. For me the market is a vibrant community, where kindred spirits greet each other like neighbors living side by side in small town America. I'm not just talking about the shoppers; I'm also talking about the farmers, who are becoming my Sunday friends.
|A SMALL SECTION OF MOUNTAIN VIEW FARMERS MARKET - 5TH FAVORITE LARGE MARKET IN CALIFORNIA|
Connecting personally with the farmers is something I really enjoy. For an extrovert like me, getting to know the farmers by name and developing a relationship means a lot because it makes the food on my plate actually mean something and even taste better. It is my nature to ask a lot of questions -- Where is your farm located? How much acreage do you have? How many crops do you grow? What are you doing water-wise now that we are in such a severe drought? Their answers are important to me because I'm not a farmer and can't put myself in their shoes. I'm not even a gardener. You see, I've never put seeds in the ground or planted anything I could eat, so I have enormous respect for the hard work these farmers do, and what they are able to accomplish, with or without the help of Mother Nature.
|EVERYTHING IS ORGANIC AND DELICIOUS FROM SWANK FAMILY FARMS|
Take the two sisters, Joyce and Lucianne, who share a bit of my Greek heritage, with some Armenian thrown in as well. Their farm stand is called Sweet Annie's, and because of their close-in location at the market, it's the first place we stop. Our early arrival enables us to have time for a little chat, and sometimes even a hug. We've even looked at their photo album showing pictures of the farm and their colorful chickens pecking away in the open field. For several years, I mistakenly called Lucianne Annie, until she graciously told me one day that her name was Lucianne, and that Annie was the name of her mother. Joyce and Lucy always have big smiles on their faces, laughing about why one week their hens lay small eggs, and other weeks the eggs are gigantic. "Blame it on the weather, " Lucy tells me, and considering they live in the hot Central Valley town of Clovis, I believe every word they say. "Hey, Joyce," I holler out. "Can you pick out the perfect cantaloupe for me to eat today or tomorrow?" After scanning the table quickly with well-trained eyes, Joyce hands me a golden cantaloupe that smells really sweet right through its thick skin and says, "You can tell this will be candy sweet because of its beautiful color."
|(L-R) JOYCE AND LUCIANNE FROM SWEET ANNIE'S (YES, LUCY, YOU ROCK!)|
Even in the peak of summer when the market is in full throttle, like it is now, most farmers manage to squeeze in a little time to talk to shoppers about what they are buying or answer questions about how to cook this, or what to do with that. Even the Asian farmers who grow produce about which I know nothing never make me feel dumb. They very politely answer my question when I hold up a giant bunch of weird looking greens and ask, "What is this?"
|WHAT ARE THESE ASIAN GREENS?|
Kelly, who sells vegetables grown at Country Rhodes Family Farm in Visalia, explained that they are known for their outstanding tomatoes. The striped German tomato I tasted last week was fantastic, and the juicy red and yellow cherry tomatoes were delicious in the penne pasta I made with chunks of fresh lobster meat, garlic, shallots, and fresh basil. Recipe will be sent upon request!
|TOMATOES FROM COUNTRY RHODES FAMILY FARMS|
Silvia Prevedelli from Prevedelli Family Farm in Watsonville is another example of a super farmer, the kind of person who is more committed to educating than selling. Her outstanding produce speaks for itself. Silvia's main goal at Sunday's market is to talk to her customers, to inform and educate. She not only wants you to understand the difference in the large variety of apples she grows, but how each one differs in taste. One of the things I admire about Silvia is her deep commitment to the profession of farming, and her passion for agriculture education. In keeping with her dedication, Silvia and her family are involved in a fundraising effort to establish scholarships with the express purpose of educating future farmers and encouraging young people to enter or continue in the vocation. An example of this is the fundraising farm dinner she and others are hosting at the Prevedelli Farm in Watsonville. If you click on their website under their highlighted name above, you will find detailed information on the fundraising dinner scheduled for September 28, 2014, and specifics about how to buy your tickets. I have already bought ours, and if you live close by, I hope you will consider attending too.
|SILVIA PEVEDELLI OF PREVEDELLI ORGANIC FARMS|
Another delightful farmer I would like to single out is Donna Shebelut, who drives two hours from Madera every Sunday in the summer months to sell her delicious peaches, pluots and plums. What I enjoy about Donna is her passion for her exceptional fruit. Here's my advice. Believe whatever Donna tells you. She knows her business, and if you don't think her peaches are the very best, then do a side-by-side comparison taste test and find out. We did exactly that, and now we are loyal to Donna and buy most of our peaches from her. In addition to her humor, she has a sharp wit, and she always has something to teach you. Incidentally, her farm is called DEL Shebelut: The D stands for Donna, and the E and the L stand for her kids, Elise and Lance.
|DONNA SHEBELUT OF DEL SHEBELUT FARMS|
All the dedicated farmers at Mountain View Farmers Market work hard, and Adrian Alvor from Montebello Farms is no exception. He explained that there are only four of them who work at the farm, planting, harvesting, and selling every week at several farmers markets throughout Northern California. Besides himself, there is his wife, his father and his brother. He also told me how their 18 acre farm is on leased land in Morgan Hill, and that they fear losing that land because housing developments are getting closer all the time.
|ADRIAN ALVOR OF MONTEBELLO FARMS|
Strawberry season seems to last longer and longer each year, but who's complaining. As early as March and often as late as December, you can find strawberries for sale at the market, but never will you find strawberries as sweet and juicy as they are right now during the peak growing season of June, July and August. I'm not partial to one strawberry farmer over another, so I buy from a variety of different growers. To be honest, it just depends on who has the sweetest sample that I might taste that particular week.
|YOU'VE NEVER TASTED STRAWBERRIES SO FRESH AND SWEET|
Another one of my favorite farmers is Araceli from Calderon Farms in Hollister. I call her my potato lady because I buy one or two russet potatoes from her each week to satisfy our need to carbo-load. Not only does Aracelli grow a wide variety of tasty vegetables, like carrots, broccoli, and green beans, she's also one of the few farmers who grows and sells fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and mint. Oh, how I love fresh mint in my summer mojitos or an Arnold Palmer.
|ARACELI - ALWAYS WITH A SMILE ON HER FACE|
I get a big kick out of Brenda who works at Heirloom Organics because each week Brenda's hair is a different color. I've noticed that her hair color often matches the colors of their produce. One week her hair is the color of swiss chard. Another week her hair matches the purple spinach, but bottom line, Brenda knows her stuff, and can tell you about all the different pre-washed greens they sell and how they cook up best. Now that I know how important greens are in our daily diet, I make every effort to steam or sauté fresh greens several times a week.
|BRENDA FROM HEIRLOOM ORGANICS|
One Sunday I bought some fingerling potatoes from Ashley and Daniel at Rio de Parras Organics out of Salinas. Their produce stand is next to Brenda's at Heirloom Organics. When I accidentally left my bag of fingerling potatoes behind, Brenda hunted me down amidst the large throng of shoppers because she knew how upset I would be to get home and not have my fingerlings. Now how thoughtful is that!
|DANIEL AND ASHLEY, RIO DE PARRAS ORGANICS|
Patti Gonzales of Apricot King Orchards, sells dried fruit, walnuts & almonds from a 45 acre farm that she and her husband Gary own in Hollister. Patti is at the Mountain View Farmers Market all year round, so when fresh peaches or apricots are not in season, you can always buy dried fruit from Queen Patty, and their nuts taste delicious any time of the year.
|PATTI, APRICOT KING ORCHARDS|
Several growers sell delicate orchids, colorful cut flowers, and even small Japanese maple saplings, and over the years I've bought quite a few from each. My favorite growers are Mr. and Mrs. Herman Schmezer who have been selling potted plants at the market for more than 23 years. They explained how this year has been kind of tough because of the current drought. They said some home gardeners are now looking to buy drought-resistant plants, which the Schmezers are hoping to eventually provide, but all the plants I've bought from them over the years are doing extremely well, even with limited water.
|MR. AND MRS. HERMAN SCHMEZER AND THEIR BEAUTIFUL PLANTS|
I also appreciate the friendly farmers at High Ground Organics, who grow high quality organic vegetables, including a wide variety of lettuces: romaine, red leaf, red oak leaf, baby gem, butter, and red butter. I know this might sound a little high-fallutin, but I think their luscious red butter lettuce falls into the category of gourmet. Their other produce is wonderful too, but for me I always buy the lettuce.
|THIS IS WHAT I CALL GOURMET RED BUTTER LETTUCE|
Last, but not least, are the helpful and knowledgable people at Mission Fish where we buy our fresh wild salmon every single Sunday all year long. Some times the salmon is local and caught off the California Coast. Other times the fish is flown in fresh from Canada the day before. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter where the fish comes from because it always tastes very fresh and always very delicious.
|MISSION FISH ALSO SELLS FRESH SOLE, HALIBUT, AND SNAPPER BUT MY FAVORITE IS SALMON|
It's a well known fact among our good friends that if you are invited to our house for a Sunday night dinner, you will probably be served fresh salmon, either poached, grilled, or roasted--maybe accompanied with just a slice of Meyer lemon, or a dollop of home-made pesto or maybe a spicy surprise, like a coconut Thai sauce. If you come to our house in February I might serve roasted organic cauliflower as an appetizer. We could also have grilled organic asparagus in April or sliced heirloom tomatoes with creamy buratta cheese in September. I believe in simple cooking. Right now we are serving corn on the cob, with or without butter, with or without Kosher salt.
Hmm, I think it's time to finish writing this post and see what's in the refrigerator. I'm getting hungry.