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Apr 21, 2003 06:25 PM

Strawberries at UCI Farmer's Market

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Last Saturday, I made my usual trip to the UC Irvine farmer's market, and noticed that many of the vendors sold strawberries out of similar looking cardboard flats that indicated origin from either Carlsbad or somewhere in the Central Valley. While they looked ripe and plump and red, they had very little flavor. I samples the berries at several of the stands selling this stuff with the same result: firm, pulpy berries with no sweetness, no tartness, very little strawberryness.

Then I went to an older Japanese couple who grow their Chandler variety berries in Brea. Now these tasted and looked great, like how you'd expect farmers market berries to be. These were really at their peak and I should have eaten more immediately because many went bad the next day. I asked this man what the deal was, and he told me that the other vendors are reselling produce grown by some industrial farm. Aren't there rules at the markets that govern that vendors must sell their own produce? Like anything else, buyer beware, I guess.

If you're not a regular at your local farmers' market, may I suggest you visit these growers that work hard to give you great tasting (rather than merely great looking) produce? Organic produce sometimes looks bug-eaten, or even show up at the market with little critters living in the leaves. This is actually a good thing, cuz it indicates the produce hasn't been sprayed with pesticides. You'll taste the difference, and appreciate that your money's supporting people who really deserve it.

That said, the best strawberries I've tasted came from Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe: wild berries called Mar du Bois (I'm probably off on my spelling). These are tiny little berries are packed with sugar and flavor - nothing else comes close. Now - does anyone know of a source where these can be bought without the trip all the way to RSF? How about a source for some Mar du Bois plants?

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  1. For great strawberries & other wonderful produce, try the Smith Farm stand at Jeffrey and Bryan in Irvine. They grow most of the stuff right there & have a large selection of organic produce. The prices are really good too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MzMaggie

      I have to say that the best strawberries I've had around Irvine came from the Tanaka farmstand on University and Michelson... last July. They're organic and grown in those free-standing containers outside. I bought some 2 months ago and they weren't as good, though, so I figure warmer weather makes them tastier. I've found the produce from the Smith stand lackluster, although I love the atmosphere there.

      I agree that the strawberries from the UCI market are usually quite bad. I'll have to try the ones mentioned this weekend. Thanks for the tip.

    2. Great strawberries near UCI are at Birch Street and Bristol Street South (actually on Birch toward the beach). The vendor was on Bristol near the 55 and moved to the Birch Street lot when the Design Center was built on Brisotl last year.

      I don't know if they are Mar du Bois, but they are quite red and sweet and juicy; consistently for years.

      1. Prof Salt: I am the person who started the earlier thread about green peanuts that you responded to, and I just happened to see your post about the UCI Farmers' Market, which turns out to raise the same question about whether the seller is the grower or not.

        I did happen to do a quick Google search and found this website to "certified" farmers' markets in OC, and, if the Saturday Irvine one is the one you go to, those sellers ^should^ be growers. If so, you might want to check it out a little further and if you have some concerns, discuss it with the market organizer.

        (See link elsewhere on this page.)

        I'll be interested in what you may learn (about the peanuts, too!)

        -- Dave


        1 Reply
        1. re: Dave
          Professor Salt

          Hi Dave,

          I'll find out about the peanuts for you and report back.

          Your web link confirms my understanding that market vendors sell their own produce. I'm going to see if I can confirm that with the market manager.

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          Professor Salt

          Thanks, everyone for your local source suggestions. I am aware of where these places are, now I'll go ahead and try them.

          I doubt that any of them grow my beloved Mar du Bois berries (these are difficult to grow commerically, apparently), so I will put a sunny spin on the long schlep to Rancho Santa Fe and call the visit to Chino Farms a hound field trip!