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Jun 20, 2009 02:25 PM

New at Little Italy's Farmers Market

Since last summer there are definetly some new vendors at Little Italy's Farmers Market.

There is a great homeade Thai food chef and his wife at the west side of Date. His first week was last week and his food is excellent.

There is a BBQ pulled pork sandwich guy who I have not tried.

There is a pizza vendor that cooks pizza on site. Have not tried either.

And as been mentioned here before, there is a Fresh Uni vendor that is a must try.

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  1. At the same market this morning I encountered a guy selling whole chickens from his farm in Julian which he'd butchered yesterday. He said they were pen-free and were $20 each. A lot for a chicken, but I was ready to buy and roast one tonight until my wife reminded me its our anniversay and we have dinner reservations in L.J.

    This particular market is definitely getting bigger and better.

    18 Replies
    1. re: mcgrath

      I love the LI farmers market, but come on, $20 for one chicken?!?!??? I think that is excessive and can be detrimental to the movements (locavore, sustainable, organic, Slow Food, etc) that it relates to. I love good food, I'm growing more and more wary of indsutrially produced food and I think the Slow Food concept of good, clean, fair food is valid. But at $20 a pop, who can afford to support the notions?

      My salary is very generous and I can not afford to shop the local farmers markets every week. I almost fainted a couple months ago when I went to purchase 2 (small!!) sweet potatoes and 4 baking potatoes and the vendor wanted $9.00+. For 6 potatoes? Hmmm...I think not.

      Do I want to support local farmers? You bet. Do I want to eat food that is grown or produced under less stress than large scale operations? Yes. Do I want to eat healthier food? Another yes. Can I afford to shop the farmers markets in SD? Nope, not every week. And therein lies the rub. How do you do this when your pocketbook won't support it. Well, I've got tomatoes, chiles, tomatillos and herbs growing in my back yard. Further, how can we expect eating habits to change to cleaner, healthier options when the price puts them out of reach of many consumers. As Alice Waters says, it's a choice, but should the choice be between eating good food and paying the gas bill? Perhaps shopping at the City Heights farmers market is in order. (I'll stop my rant now, I don't mean to hijack your reply)

      BTW, try the almonds from the young guy selling then from small baskets. at the LI farmers market Not the bulk bin almond vendor. The almonds are ridiculously good (love the lime and salt variety) but helliously expensive for how many you get.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        I couldn't agree with you more DD. I went to the Escondido Farmer's Market last Tuesday and one fruit and vegetable stand wanted 85 cents per corn. Well...I wanted to taste what 85 cent corn was like and I could afford to buy 3 of them...but many people walked by, asked about the price then would balk, turn and walk away. Remember, we're talking Escondido...not La Jolla here...lots of people on low-medium fixed incomes in my mom's neighborhood! ...and yes, I've paid more for a stalk of sweet, white corn at Chino's, but at least the quality justified the price and nothing went to waste.

        On the other hand, I have bought white corn from Owen, at the Horton Plaza Farmer's Market on Thursday and not only were they sweet, they were organic as well, little worms and all. For one buck, he shucks them for you and has been known to throw an "extra" one in your bag if realizes you regularly visit his stall which sits right next to the little organic meat truck.

        After cooking the 85 cent corn, I'll be going back to Owen's for convenience (right next to my office), price and flavor. I also buy strawberries, tomatoes, squash blossoms and cucumbers from him too.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          Love those almonds. We get some from them at the PB market almost every week. I think they are at the OB market as well.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            I checked out those Chickens too. The $20 ones where like the size of large roasters at I think he said 12 weeks, so at least you'll be yielding quite a bit of an edible portion out of a young bird. It'll be pretty tender. They were a little expense but I'm assuming the quailty will be there to try one at some point soon. Think of the orange farm raised Salmon versus wild caught Alaskan red, huge price difference but huge difference in taste too. The guy was also selling smaller chickens that were older (15 weeks vs 12 weeks for the larger size) for $15. He said those guys were active as all heck. Interesting if you like gamier meat.

            The Market is a little expense. I'll have to compare prices to Hillcrest next time I go. I paid $9 for 6 huge Tomatoes yesterday at LI. But, I made a damn good Bisque out of it last night. But, I was going for top quality stuff. If you shop around, you'll find deals. Also remember, the last half hour or 15 mintues before close you'll have a bit more negationation room on prices. The last thing these guys want to do is have to pack and move all the inventory back.

            1. re: mjill

              mjill, my grandparents had a poultry ranch in Lemon Grove for 30 years while I was growing up, so I'm pretty familiar with chickens :-)

              There is nothing quite like a fresh chicken, it *is* far superior to the flacid and flavorless things that pass as chickens in the grocery store. There is no doubt that some range room and good feed will yield quite a good bird. Enough to warrant $20? Not sure. I can think of a lot of things to do with $20 other than buy one single chicken. Now, if he's got any old hens he's willing to sell for less we might can do business :-).

              There is a poultry shop about a half block south of El Cajon Blvd. on Euclid ,on the west side of the street, that does fresh kill and butchering. While I don't know exactly where they get their birds, I do know their prices are far more reasonable and their products pretty decent. Most of the signs are in either Cambodian or Vietnamese, or perhaps both I wouldn't know, but there is a screaming big sign on top of the store in Spanish saying POLLOS PATOS VIVIEROS, or words to that effect.

              As with any freshly killed meat, and especially poultry, it needs to rest so that rigor mortis passes or else it'll end up something akin to shoe leather mixed with rubber bands. If the vendor in LI killed on Friday and sold on Saturday, it's was probably good to go for dinner Saturday night, tho' I think I'd still be inclined to wait and cook it on Sunday to avoid rigor.

              Yes, I am aware that most farmers market vendors don't wish to pack up stock to take home and will discount prices. I shop late, but alas, I have yet to be on the receiving end of any discounts :-(

              1. re: DiningDiva

                Do you know if that Poultry shop in El Cajon sells game birds? Signs in Cambodian or Vietnamese, in my experience, tends to be a good thing with fish and poultry..... ;) I'm trying to find reasonable Quall and Pigeon to play with. I still have yet to find a Poussin that doesn't cost an arm and a leg but ohhh man are they good and a perfect individual portion size.

                Thats too bad you can't get a deal at the end of the show. I'm surprised they aren't willing to haggle a bit by then. Bourdain was saying something similar to what you mentioned about the costs of the Alice Water's idea of organic and local produce. I still think there is some value to find at the local FM's but like anything, quality is going to cost a bit more. I think if you truely shop season, you're bound to find good prices at the right times. Hopefully my wife and I see you around.

                1. re: mjill

                  I don't know if the Asian poultry shop has quails and pigeons. The ladies at the counter do speak/understand English, I think it would be worth your while to ask. If they don't have them regularly, they might be willing to do a special order for you. My grandfather used to raise specialty birds - pheasant, geese, ducks and even peacocks - for regular clients. It never hurts to ask :-)

                  I generally shop late because I'm not really a morning person, perhaps I'm not quite late enough for the really good deals. I think LI is a really cool little market, maybe having a late lunch at the market, followed by a bit of haggling and ending up with a gelato from Pappalecco's is in order.

            2. re: DiningDiva

              I suspect the farmer in question is Curtis Womach, who raises his chickens outdoors, on pasture, in cooperation with a local goat farmer in Wynola. I believe that once the chickens are a certain age, they get no corn-based at all, they eat entirely from the natural outdoor environment. (You'd want to confirm that with Curtis, though, my memory may be faulty). For sure the chickens are the best I've ever tasted. .

              I've read that, prior to the industrialization of "farming", chickens were considered an expensive delicacy, because raising them as a farm animal (as opposed to a industrial protein machine) is very expensive.

              Comparing Curtis' chickens to what you buy in the store is like comparing apples and boomerangs. Even the best, most expensive commercial chicken you can buy in the US -- "free range, organic, humanely raised" -- is still raised indoors, in pretty crowded conditions, and is fed a diet of subsidized corn which is grown and transported through the use of subsidized fossil fuel.

              Commercial chicken *isn't* cheaper, it just externalizes all the costs of chicken to the environment, the government, petroleum supply and resource wars, Western diseases, CAFO-related epidemics like swine flu, the destruction of communities in rural areas, worker injuries, and increased suburbanization. But by externalizing those costs, its price in the supermarket can get as low as $1.50/lb.

              With chickens raised the way Curtis' are, none of those other costs are paid by other people, the government, or the environment, so you have to pay the full price of raising a chicken. Which isn't cheap.

              It's a bummer that the real price of food is more than we have been led to believe in the last 50 years, and we have to choose between, on one hand, both eating a lot less meat and spending more of our income on food, or on the other hand, continuing to subsidize a process that is killing us, our communities, and our environment. That choice is an unpleasant one to have to make,and it's no wonder that it is upsetting to be confronted with it at a friendly place like a farmers market.

              1. re: jayporter

                GREAT post, jayporter. Thank you for speaking up. My chef husband said much the same over our Womach chicken dinner last night (see below); that meat has always been a great delicacy and very expensive (or lots of hard work.) Cheap meat is just that: cheap meat.

                That's why we'll be eating Womach chicken in our house.

              2. re: DiningDiva

                Who the hell is going to pay $20 for a roasted chicken at a Farmer's Market?
                I don't care how frigging good it's chicken!

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Some thoughts:

                  $20 for a chicken does not seem that crazy to me. The organic Petaluma chickens we buy at Henry's aren't as expensive, but they aren't much cheaper. I wonder how much the USDA process adds to the bottom line - I know that is a big issue for local pork producers.

                  Given that quality and sustainability have such costs, I find it interesting that the "farm-to-table" restaurants in town have such a primary emphasis on meat and seafood. Don't get me wrong - I love my meat and seafood, but it seems like minimizing that part of the equation might serve both to lessen the footprint and keep the food from being a luxury of the wealthy.

                  1. re: menuinprogress

                    i don't think it is that unreasonable at all.

                    Think about it, it is not like these farmers are getting rich and buying jets from selling the stuff.

                2. re: mcgrath

                  I've been out of town since I posted about the chicken vendor, but have now read all the replies, and wish to contribute my two cents worth.

                  I'll be buying one of these chickens next Saturday if he's still at the L.I. market, which is the only one I attend. Perhaps its about triple what I'm used to paying for a chicken and maybe double what I'd hope to pay from the farmer who butchered the bird the day before. But for an extra $10 or $15 I hope to get a chicken experience I've never had before. I'm not saying I'll get all my chicken from this guy from now on, even if its great, but as a one time only shot to experience chicken like none other, its certainly worth that extra money to me.

                  I love fresh seafood, preferably wild caught. I think nothing of paying $20 for a piece of great fish that will feed two, same as the $20 chicken. I think the outrage over the $20 chicken has to do with our being conditioned to ever cheaper chicken over the years due to the ability of the food industry to drive down costs through more efficient means of production. With seafood, there are fewer corners to cut, so we're conditioned to paying higher prices for that product.

                  "Price-conditioning" aside, is that same $20 really better spent on a great hunk of fresh fish caught yesterday, or a properly raised, happy chicken butchered yesterday? Maybe I can't afford the finest home or car, but I sure as heck can afford the best chicken, at least once in awhile.

                  1. re: mcgrath

                    "I think the outrage over the $20 chicken has to do with our being conditioned to ever cheaper chicken over the years due to the ability of the food industry to drive down costs through more efficient means of production."

                    Well said.

                    $20 really isn't a lot for something healthy and great tasting.

                    Hell, $20 is the price of cocktails in many cities (not san diego).

                    I really think we should be supporting these local farmers as much as we can.

                    1. re: stevewag23

                      Please respect the fact that for some of us, we don't relativize against cocktails, or any other such "luxuries". A $20 chicken is 40% of a weekly food budget of a family of four on no income, trying to make the savings last. I love the idea of supporting the local farmers, as I said, and I will what I can where I can, but the fact that I cannot at this point does not make me a cog in the corporate mass-production evil conspiracy.

                    2. re: mcgrath

                      You know this whole thread passed before my eyes last Saturday in Iowa Meat Farms as I paid just under $20 for my industrial strength 3 1/4# beef brisket.

                      That's the same price as one of the (now) infamous LI farmers market chickens. And about the same, or less, as I'd pay at Blue Water for a pound to pound and a half of fish. So, I thought, if I'm willing to lay down the same amount of cash for a piece of beef or some fish, why am I not wiling to fork it over for a chicken. Then it hit me...a whole chicken is 40% +/- waste (skin, bone, etc) making the eible portion (or real) cost in the $28-30 range.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        True, but a good portion of that waste can also be used to make stock which in turn saves you some cash on buying canned/boxed stuff from the store.

                        1. re: DougOLis

                          True too. But then you've got the whole issue of your time to make the stock, what's it worth, and you've got to have the fridge or freezer space to store it. But there is nothing like a rich, deep flavorful stock with which to cook. Talk about a secret ingredient...

                          I will, of course, now have to try one of these $20 beauties. I can buy the arguments against industrial meat, I understand the overfishing issues, but for some preverse reason I am having a devil of time with the chicken issue.

                  2. I tried a sample of the pizza and it was very good. Nice crust on it that was crisp with a little chew. Didn't get a piece with enough sauce to really form an opinion about it. The pizza with an egg on it looked very intriguing and I would definitely give them a try next time I was there.

                    1. We bought a chicken from the vendor in LI yesterday. The smallest he had at $15. Here's what I can say: when my husband opened the package there was NO stink smell. It was fantastic. The poultier also gave us a bag of free feet, heads, hearts, gizzards with which we made stock. We're roasting the bird tonight and will let you know. Husband did talk to the poultier at length, complained of price etc. The man said he's trying to figure out the market, his costs, his determination to deliver absolutely fresh chicken. Getting the best food possible is a process. Just like the LI market. It started small. We supported it. It's growing. Yesterday there were at least three new produce vendors. . .

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: pickypicky

                        Figuring out food financing and related budgets is one of my specialties, seriously. I'm out of town next weekend and the following weekend is 4th of July, but I'd like to have a serious discussion with this guy, maybe I could help. We could really use a good source for clean, local, humanely raised chickens, but if the cost to produce and market is exceeds what the market is willing to pay, something in the dynamic has to shift.

                        Where in the market was his stall located? It doesn't matter how wonderful his chickens are if the market won't buy. Most of the vendors I've talked to at that market are really nice, maybe my background could be helpful.

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          I'm bummed I can't remember his name. . .but he was at the very western end, where the new booths are added on. he said that he works Hillcrest (where I had seen him months ago) and his business there is terrific. He's had no trouble with cost there. My husband, a chef, discussed the poultry for his restaurant but said the prices were far too high. The man replied that with his success at Hillcrest, he may not need restaurants. . . so check him out. For us it's worth it occasionally to have a chicken like this. Husband will not buy the high-priced ones at Whole Foods for us,but he would love to be able to encourage a local IF he deems the product worthy. We'll see tonight.

                          1. re: pickypicky

                            I will check him out and talk to him. I'm glad to hear he's having good luck at Hillcrest. I wonder why the difference, the income demographics would seem to be similar. Thanks for his location.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              I really hope you do get to have a discussion with him. I am in the same boat: I really want to support local food sources while buying strictly organic for some things for the kids, and some not for the rest. I do buy the organic chickens from costco because we were without income for a year, and there is no way I could pay $20 for one chicken. When the kids are older, I can go without meat for more meals, but for now, I can't do the extreme quality/quantity thing. I have also never gotten a deal at the markets no matter what time I go. But then my husband thinks I have "sucker" written on my forehead :)

                              1. re: aforkcalledspoon

                                Have you checked out the City Heights farmers market? Here's the link - http://www.cityheightsfarmersmarket.c... . As I understand it, this market was developed to provide access to fresh produce and food in an underserved part of town. Prices are supposed to be more affordable. I haven't been yet, but it is high on my list of places to check out soon. As much as I love the OB and LI markets I'd like to find something more affordable so that I could purchase more frequently.

                                If you go, post back and let us know how it was.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  Thank you very much for that info. We just moved to San Diego so I definitely need to source good food options for us. I will report back.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    Diva, good luck with the chic vendor, sounds like you have a great skill and are savy about food costs. I hope you can assist him with pricing so everyone comes out happy. He can make a living and we get excellent tasting poultry. Like some who say, I really don't see what all the fuss is about, his are only about $5.00 more. IMO, the fuss is that's aprox. 38% more than TJ's which is aprox. 50-55% more than Costco and for some who are on a budget with families etc. if you compound that over protein, vegies, fruit etc., it can really add up. I'd prefer to purchase much more at FM's but, I must keep it real and look for value.

                                2. re: DiningDiva

                                  He runs out at about 10:30 AM at the Hillcrest Farmers Market - I'm actually surprised he has enough product to sell at LI too.

                                  I really don't see what all the fuss is about. A large organic chicken at Trader Joes costs $13.00 - his are only about $5.00 more (and I usually get the $15. ones - small chickens are hard to find these days at the market.)

                                  I either dry brine and roast it whole, or take the breasts off and make amazing stock with the carcass and some heads, feet and necks. I also use the livers to make chicken liver mousse.

                              2. I really love the schaner farms stand, they are super sweet, love the eggs, and the veggies are very reasonable. Its funny, I was just saying to my husband today, its scary how much stuff actually costs when its properly raised...

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jennywenny

                                  I've bought chickens from Dave (Da-Le Ranch) at the LI farmers market and they have all been high quality, he is usually towards the eastern end of the market. The ranch is out by Lake Elsinore, he does source meat from elsewhere in the state. $10-15 for chicken if I remember correctly. They usually sell out quick, you can call and pre-arrange delivery and pick up at the market.

                                  1. re: jennywenny

                                    I LOVE Kayne Schaner's herbal bouquets. I hint to my husband every time we stop, and we stop and buy every time. I can't even eat their blue eggs because they're so beautiful.

                                  2. We roasted our tiny $15 bought-at-Little-Italy-farmer's market Womach Ranch chicken last night-- and it was incredible. My husband says, "A special treat." I say, "Less chicken and we only eat chickens this good." As I said above, there was no blood smell when we opened the plastic. (The chicken had only been in the plastic 24 hrs.) It had never been flash-frozen. Everything about it tasted, smelled CLEANLY chickeny. Husband said that parts of the bird were almost gamey they were so lean (but I loved the skin!) To repeat: Mr. Womach gave us a free bag of heads, feet, and innards for our stock and dog. He is a pleasure to deal with, and I love his chicken. (see photo)

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                      Chicken looks great. You should get some good, rich stock from all those extras.

                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                        If we are sharing chicken pictures here is the De-La ranch chicken a la spit.

                                          1. re: pickypicky

                                            Attaches to a webber, pretty inexpensive and well worth the investment.