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New Farmer's Market-Little Italy SD

There was a great thread going on Farmer's Markets and it vanished: I guess pulled by the zealots for being promotional. (Someone had asked for advice on forming a new market, and I made a mistake asking her to let us know when it was up and running. . .when will I learn?) But there was such great feedback and questions, I'm taking a chance to resurrect some of the ideas that were flowing. I love the new Little Italy Farmer's Market (Saturday mornings) and believe that as it grows it could surpass Hillcrest as a source for great produce ( organic and otherwise beautiful) and maybe even meats and fowl. My chefman and I had patronized at least 8 other markets, until we found this one. It's not perfect, but it has its plusses. Easy to stroll and see all the vendors. Parking not great but not impossible (take quarters for meters). 3-4 organic produce vendors, including Sage Mountain. Bread & Cie, Opera pasteries. Smoked salmon, lots of food vendors. And great situation: the street overlooks the harbor and there are lots of cafes nearby. It FEELS like a real market rather than a social happening. I'm a negative San Diegan, in general, but if we push for a Farmer's Market with real farmers, ranchers, poultry- and dairypeople then maybe, just maybe, we'll get one.

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  1. I was wondering where the posts went! I just wanted to get you advice from the people that have seen all of the areas markets....we're required to be a non-profit. We want to do best by the growers. We're just provide the space and volunteers-we aren't paid. Thank you pickypicky- your advice and observations are spot-on.


    2 Replies
    1. re: BCFM

      My chefman thinks I'm nuts bothering with Chowhound; thinks it silly posturing and everybody jes' lookin' for what's new to brag about. I believe in its own way, Chowhound can Educate and Create Good Taste, and lord knows, San Diego needs more of that. I think your post was fine, BCFM. The fault was mine for asking you to keep me posted on your market, but I'm just guessing. Maybe this thread will rev up some more good stuff on farmer's markets. Hillcrest has always been considered SD's best, and I went dutifully, but when I've visited other farmer's markets (in Northern California, Texas, North Carolina) and have seen the real turnout of local farmers, well--

      1. re: pickypicky

        Maybe he's confusing CH with Yelp ;-)

        I didn't think there was anything wrong with the other post either - how else are we supposed to find out what's going on?

        As far as your thoughts on the markets - the best thing to do is go to the ones we have - it's the only way more people will see the wisdom of selling there!

    2. that lost thread provided me with quite a bit of new information, sorry they felt the need to take it down. thanks for resurrecting it pp. BCFM, I really admire your pure intentions and goals in establishing this new FM. You will be a little too far for me unless we plan to make a day of it (which we may sometime in the fall), but you initiated a great and passionate conversation about a topic that is so important to many of us. Thanks pp, for extending it - and turning me on to some new perspectives.

      1. I'm so glad you posted about the San Diego farmers' market. Here in the SF Bay Area, I love our farmers' markets and wait each year for my favorite produce to come into season and to get them form some wonderful and friendly farmers. Nothing like fresh unbruised white nectarines, a whole box of fresh blueberries, heirloom tomatoes (without processor contamination) and fresh field greens (without processor contamination). Anyhow, enough about the health pluses of shopping at small scale farm stalls - I'm really excited to check out the new farmers' market you spoke of in San Diego. When we go on vacations these days, we google for farmers markets on our route. My kids and I love them. Its an important part of our vacation and food experience. It also leads us to on-farm farm stands run by the market farmers. Some of those have been out of this world. (Hmmm......There was that pie place near Whistler, and that ice cream "farm" near Parksville (both in British Columbia); and at the markets, the crepes and melons in Paris,....The berries at the U District market in Seattle.....and roasted corn in Boulder, CO..mmmmmmm!).
        Thanks for posting! Do you know what time the San Diego Little Italy market closes on Saturdays? We'll be getting into town that day.

        21 Replies
        1. re: kabocha

          The Little Italy market is open until 1:30 on Saturdays.

          I'm so sad I missed the farmers' market thread from last week - being a market fiend, someone just told me I should check it out, but I was a day late I guess. Is it lost and gone forever? Anyone want to do a reader's digest condensed version, free of whatever sin got it pulled?

          1. re: sandshark

            Someone had posted asking for what CHers like/don't like about farmer's markets because he/she is in charge of starting a new one in Bonsall. So we all posted our likes/dislikes. We all liked lots of farmer representation; want to see more organic vegetable selection; more organic meat and poultry; more great bread. I wrote that I like markets where you can stroll freely and see vendors on both sides, not jumbled like at OB and LJ. I wrote that we used to patronize Oside, which we liked well enough, when we lived up there, but had one-night-standed it here in SD, flitting from market to market never satisfied with one-- until the new one in Little Italy which seems promising. I recommended Dale the Honey Man to the Bonsal person. And said I prefer Bread and Cie breads or anybody who doesn't package their baked goods in plastic. (B&C and Opera are at Little Italy among others.) But I think what happened was that I asked to be alerted when the new Bonsall market opens and they yanked it for solicitation. All I can figure. I was excited because the Bonsall mkt promises artisan cheeses (!) and organic meats and maybe even some wine merchants(!) and that's all I can remember of what I wrote. Oh, and others wrote in to say they agreed with me, that foodstuffs trump giftie/jewelry/craftie things. That Farmer's MARKET is better than Bazaar. And yes, there needs to be room to accomodate all those baby strollers. Sandshark, put your 2 cents in now!

            1. re: pickypicky

              I want the SF Ferry Building farmers market. Nothing else compares or satisfies quite like that one.

              The DD

              1. re: DiningDiva

                Funny. That's how I feel about SD restaurants but not about the Farmer's markets. I mean, sure, of course, I want the Ferry Building too, but since I live in America's Finest City, I'm grateful to any hard-working provisioners who bring their beautiful food to our so-called "Farmer's" Markets. I'm a little harder on SD restauranteurs, maybe because they charge more.

                1. re: pickypicky

                  Unfortunately, some of the local produce here doesn't compare to the Ferry Building farmers market in variety or overall quality. Nor do any of the prepared food vendors even *begin* to approach the Ferry Building. Even the prices were lower.

                  Being harder on the restaurants than the farmers markets doesn't make a whole lot of sense since many of the restaurants get their goods from the purveyors that frequent the farmers market. Why is it "good enough" for the farmers market, but not "good enough" for a restaurant? Ya lost me on this one.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Couldn't agree more on everything you wrote.
                    I think it is even more important for a region to have access to outstanding ingredients/produce/meat than have outstanding restaurants. Often a region only gets more and more outstanding restaurants if the quality of the produce improves significantly. I think the quality of the produce has improved in SD over the last seven years I live in this town and so has the quality of restaurants. But I also feel that recently the quality of the produce is kind of stagnating for some time.

                    1. re: honkman

                      The best produce in this region goes to LA, because the market is there. SD farmers deliver straight to Santa Monica where the reps buy for restaurants here. SD simply is not a gastronomy center yet, even if we do have Chino's, which, imo, is a boutique. Just look at our average grocery stores! Von's, Ralph's, Henry's?! I have never seen a grocery store more unappetizing than my Clairemont Von's. Any town in Texas, including my mother's small town, has a grocery with better produce and meats than any grocery in SD besides Whole Foods. I won't argue with you about the paucity of original, authentic restaurants here -- but when you have a California populace without easy access to the state's bounty for home cooking-- well, how can you expect the city's restaurants to be that good? Good taste begins at home.

                      1. re: pickypicky

                        "...but when you have a California populace without easy access to the state's bounty for home cooking-- well, how can you expect the city's restaurants to be that good?" - But that was pretty much point. You need easy access to high quality produce and meat to improve the overall situation (for restaurants and home cook) which is not the case in SD. (e.g. Jay from The Linkery wrote here or in his blog quite a while ago about his problems to get the meat he wants, I so often look for common fresh herbs like ramson, chervil, savory, certain cuts of meat and hardly find them in SD).

                        1. re: honkman

                          I know his problem. My chef man has the same one. However, partly to blame is the status referencing on menus now. "Niman Beef" etc. The worst steak I ever had was a Niman Ribeye in a Texas restaurant, which says more about the restaurant than the beef. If I'm served a terrific tasty bowl of stew, I don't care where the beef came from. Yes, it's sad we can't eat all the dry-aged beef we want, but when a restaurant can learn to make magic out of the local ingredients at hand, then we'll have real San Diego cooking. IMHO.

                          1. re: pickypicky

                            "The worst steak I ever had was a Niman Ribeye in a Texas restaurant, which says more about the restaurant than the beef."

                            Why? It could simply have been a less than stellar piece of beef. Unless you were in the kitchen and saw the raw beef, how it was handled and prepared, you don't really know if the fault was with the beef or the restaurant.

                            I'm not trying to be argumentative (and I don't think Honkman is either). I think we both do understand what your basic point is, but it seems contradictory. Electronic media, and e-list such as this are so flat that some messages and intents don't really get conveyed the way they are really meant to be. I suspect that's what's happening here.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Well, since I was there and was eating all the other food being served, and since I know good food from poorly prepared food, I must say that the steak was poorly prepared. You'll have to take my word for it. Here, we all love good food. We all want more good food in SD. We all have our opinions on how to get it. For now, I'll repeat visit any restaurant I like and any farmer's market that offers me the food I deserve.

                    2. re: DiningDiva

                      Sorry, I got carried away. What I mean is, I'll support ONE vendor at a farmer's market, just to keep him/her coming. I'll make that weekly trip, and feel I'm helping improve the quality of food here. But I won't support a restaurant that's inconsistent or overly-ambitious or more cleverly decorated than it needs to be.

                      1. re: pickypicky

                        But coming back to DD's argument - why are you willing to accept that just one vendor on a farmer market is good and most others are average but not doing the same for restaurants in SD. On CH you often critize many restaurants (and that is good and I often agree and do the same) but in comparison your are surprisingly wary with critizism with regarding vendors whereas I think they are equaly important (if not more) for the quality of food (in restaurants and at home) in any city and should be scrutinized by customers (and on CH) at least as much as restaurants.

                        1. re: honkman

                          because I'm a loyal, sentimental softie. If a farmer/vendor has bothered to grow beautiful organic produce: drive the distance: then come and set up at the market regularly-- I 'm a sucker. He/she has my full support. I do the same for any restaurant that doesn't overpromise at my expense. I'll even support an average restaurant, if they treat me well and have at least one decent dish on the menu that remains consistent and good enough for a pleasant meal. Yes, I am too critical which comes from having lived too many other places to accept SD propaganda.

                  2. re: DiningDiva

                    Absolutely right...the SF Ferry Building farmer's market is the benchmark. And even though Henry's is pretty good, San Diego needs a grocery story with the selection, quality, and great prices of Berkeley Bowl...but without the quirky Berkeley shoppers.

                    Man, that place was like a freak show.

                2. re: sandshark


                  Apparently something to do with those rules none of us read but agreed to. They pulled specific comments, not all.

                  1. re: Cathy

                    Thanks for the recap, picky. I love the Ferry Farmers' Market myself, and a couple of Seattle markets. I live in Little Italy and I like the way that market is developing. More farmers and real food, less kettle corn and trinkets. Meat, more fish, wine and more cheese, plus more really great food (not gyros - not that there's anything wrong with that) to eat there while we people watch and it could be just about perfect. Yup, room for baby strollers and wheelchairs, and (ducking because I know some folks hate this) I like the dogs being there. It's just all part of a real life scene.

                    1. re: Cathy

                      Cathy, that thread was just one of the OP's. There were two, and the police pulled the other one.

                      1. re: pickypicky

                        Oh, right. I remember now. Sorry.

                        FWIW, I have been to the teensy FM in City Heights the last three Saturdays (have had business in the new buildings on University) and each week the market as well as the clientele has gotten larger. Lots of Ethiopian cooked foods and activities.

                        1. re: Cathy

                          We tried that one-- and liked the smells of the Ethiopian cooking, but alas, not enough produce to draw us regularly. But if it grows. . .

                          1. re: pickypicky

                            Seriously. Three Saturdays in a row and this most recent one was like a whole new place compared to 3 weeks ago. It was very surprising to me.

                            There was something going on at the Police Station - kids and parents lined up at a table outside...but many more vendors-took up one entire parking aisle and almost half of the second aisle.

                3. I have also heard that the new Bonsall CFM will be aiming for a true CFM/gourmet cooking perspective? We'll definitely be heading up to North County on Sundays to see!

                  1. I am looking forward to a Sunday morning in Bonsall. I usually go to the Vista market but sometimes I am not ready by 11 am.
                    i hear there will be a cheese vendor (same as Vista), olive oil, and meat. I am looking forward to the meat and olive oil.

                    1. Finally had the chance to go to the Little Italy Farmers Market two weekends ago and I can see why some people like it since it has 2-3 interesting vendors, e.g. Knight Salumi (finally a local place for guanciale), a meat vendor and the guys from the Sea Rocket Bistro. But beside this the farmers market was a big, big disappointment. I am used to go to a farmers markets to buy local, organic produce, to have a variety of local meat vendors, good cheese vendors etc. There were just three vendors with produce, only one of them organic, one from Central Valley which I wouldn't call local, one sold a lot of stuff which looked not ripe etc. In one of the recent Edible magazine somebody wrote that there are about 310 registered, organic farms in San Diego/North County and that's what we get at Farmers Market ? I am used to buy a lot of my organic produce and meat on Farmers Markets and support local vendors but this is impossible in SD and not worth the time. Why isn't it possible to have multiple Farmers Markets in SD specialized on just organic produce ? So far I went to Farmers Markets in Little Italy, Hillcrest, La Jolla and Solana Beach and beside very few highlights (Knight Salume) they are just disappointing.

                      6 Replies
                        1. re: honkman

                          California itself has so many laws and regulations. To participate in one of the State Certified farmers markets in San Diego County, you have to belong to the San Diego Farm Bureau (SDfarmbureau.org) and pass their certification of showing everything was grown by the grower.

                          If you *also* want to be a certified organic grower, there are far more rules and regulations and testing to be done monthly on your farm. .

                          I do believe that is the main reason most major supermarkets sell organics-the farmer has had to deal with so much already that they would like some profit without having to spend time driving to and from every one of the (20 or so) San Diego farmers markets weekly and having to deal with spoilage and fees and other costs associated with running a business (each market charges a differnt fee for a booth set up) they hope to make a living from.

                          If you go to the first page of the website, you can see the tip of the iceberg of various conforming requirements.

                          I am fortunate in that I end up going to a different small grocer almost daily- there are plenty of small Asian and Mexican and Mediterranean run markets in the areas I live and have to drive in and I sort of have a 'routine" along with the ever popular "Double Ad Wednesday" at Henry's. A lot of those markets have home grown items, which probably would not stand the test of a state inspection, but I have lived through everything I have purchased...so far.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            I wonder if the current economic situation will at one point force the government to change such regulations so that people will have easier, cheaper access to local, (organic) produce and meat.
                            My main concern with the small Asian and Mexican and Mediterranean run markets is that it is often not clear where they got their produce and meat. For me it is very important to have access to organic food and after talking for example with many asian colleagues they all mentioned that most of the produce and meat at many of these stores (Ranch 99, Luck Seafood, North Park Produce etc.) is not bad but nothing you want to eat if you really care about the origin of it. There is a reason why for example the meat at those markets (and Ralphs, Vons etc.). And lets not even talk about seafood at those places and the seafood watch list.

                            1. re: honkman

                              At the smaller-smaller markets (I am talking Mexican and Vietnamese grocers on El Cajon Blvd/University and in Chula as well as Mediterranean ones in El Cajon and the Mission Gorge area) for less than 2 weeks there were the standard mealy tomatoes and plum tomatoes for 99ยข/lb and then on a different counter, closer to the registers were irregularly shaped basically unlabeled 'tomatoes' for $2.49/lb. You could smell those were home grown and I bought one just to try and went back the next day and got 6 more, even though I had some growing in my yard (which were not quite ready) and soon those were gone. Those places also almost always have bunches of rubber band wrapped dill and parsley and cilantro which I am 98% certain are also home grown...then the nectarines- the smaller odd shaped, way too ripe, exactly like the ones I have a plethora of in my yard with a higher price than other stores...but excellent...and of course oranges, tangelos and lemons don't seem to come in boxes at certain times of the year.

                              The meats and seafoods are a different subject.

                              1. re: Cathy

                                Cathy, I'm not so sure about the homegrown nature of some of the produce you're citing above. A lot of that is covered by the same government regulations, specifically in the form of CalCode the State of CA health laws. They've really tightened up on homegrown products. The produce you've seen very well could be homegrown and they're flying under the inspection radar.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  They are flying under the radar, DD...that is why I am not naming any locations. They are not advertised as 'home grown' I suppose in case an inspector walks in, but some of those items are definitely not standardized nor in packing crates. The higher prices and placement in a different area than the rest of the same type of produce is a clue.

                        2. Sorry you were disappointed, Honkman. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the SD Farmer's Markets would just merge into one really good one? (ie the Ferry Building SF) Until that happens I'll patronize the one that suits us best and pray it grows. The one organic farmer I know personally doesn't bother with the markets. He sells directly to local restaurants and to reps out of LA. The markets just weren't profitable enough for him. That's why I'm always grateful to the ones who do show up, setting up and putting away, week after week-- even as I wish they'd bring more variety. As for prices, I'll gladly pay more to the grower than to Whole Foods, as long as I'm able. But how bout that Ray Knight Salumi. Very exciting.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: pickypicky

                            Buonasera! I'm going to be careful what I say since I know there are guidelines regarding comments on your own business and I am the Little Italy Mercato developer and manager. I did want to correct some factual information in Honkman's post, though.

                            While I'm sorry you didn't like the Mercato, and suppose that's a subjective thing, this info is simply not true: "Finally had the chance to go to the Little Italy Farmers Market two weekends ago... There were just three vendors with produce, only one of them organic, one from Central Valley which I wouldn't call local, one sold a lot of stuff which looked not ripe etc. "

                            That weekend there were 13 certified growers selling produce on the north side of Date Street, in our designated Certified Farmers' Market portion of the Mercato. Many of those do grow their produce organically, though I believe only 3 are Certified Organic. (Some of our most dedicated farmers balk at what they see as capricious bureaucratic regulations in the certification process.) Almost all are from San Diego County or southwestern RIverside County (Temecula etc). While we should rightly be able to include Mexican farms in a 100-mile diet here, we don't since they aren't certified CA growers.

                            I could also respond to some of the comments about certification, home grown produce and the economics of farming and farmers' markets, but again I'm not sure about the restrictions of commenting when I'm an involved business.

                            Mangia bene!

                            1. re: MercatoMaestra

                              Sorry to disagree but on that Saturday there were only three vendors who sold produce. On that day there were also other people complaining about the low number of vendors with produce. Perhaps we are talking about different Saturdays.
                              And I don't want to start a discussion about certified organic and people who claim that they grow close to the organic standard (there are enough newpapers articles, books (Pollan, Nestle etc.) about it) but they mostly agree that certified organic is the only way to go as long as you don't know all the vendors personally.

                              1. re: honkman

                                I'm going to assume you really were in Little Italy since you mention Rey Knight. Perhaps you think each block of tables is only one farmer? Because the first week we opened, in June, we had Lone Oak Ranch, Kawano Farms, Gama Farms, Koral Tropicals, Polito Family Farm and one other farmer (strawberries, watermelon and more - around August he quit having enough crops to particpate due to reduced water allocation). That is the smallest number of farmers we've ever had selling produce. Assuming from the date of the OP you were there in late September. Since late June/early July we've also had Campbell Ranch, Rainbow Heights, Sage Mountain Farm, Santiago Soto and JR Organics, Schaner Farms, Smit Orchards and Suncoast Farms participating each week. Along with small, short-season farmers that come in just for a matter of weeks. I have to log which farms are there each week so I have records for any week you could have been there.

                                Maybe you define produce differently than we do? We're talking fruits and vegetables, right? Did you make it to the north side of the street, and from India to Columbia to State Street?

                                Again, you have every right not to love the Mercato, but these dozen-plus farmers get up early, haul produce to downtown San Diego and set up each week. It's simply not true there are only three of them there.

                          2. New this week at the Little Italy market-- besides Ray Knight Salumi handmade chorizo (I'm in love!) -- is a Petaluma cheese maker. I can't testify about their cheeses (not knowledgeable enough) but their handmade butter is incredible.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pickypicky

                              And yes, pickypicky, isn't Springhill Farms wonderful? They grow the feed for the livestock and make the cheese in Petaluma. The farmer's niece lives here in San Diego and he ships to her each week.