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Aug 6, 2010 12:46 AM

Saturday Morning Stockton Certified Farmers Market

Last month on my way to the barbecue contest, I exited the freeway and found a huge farmers market. I had a vague recollection of hearing about the year-round Saturday market tucked under the shade of the roadway. While I had less than 15 minutes to spare, I had to check it out. At 8:30am, the market was quite busy and I learned it had already been open for two hours. For those familiar with the Alemany market in San Francisco, the Stockton market looked larger.

The stands are quite simple, often just a few tables of produce behind the delivery truck with no signage identifying the farmer or source. Not that many price tags either but those few I saw seemed to range from 40¢ to $1 with the median around 75¢ for items that we’d pay double or more for in San Francisco. With less than a handful of organic farmers identifying themselves, most of the produce would seem to be conventionally grown. The market manager’s table has a card reader for redeeming EBT (food stamps).

Live poultry prices at the Stockton Farmers market were about 30 to 40% less than at San Francisco's Heart of the City market in Civic Center.

Several seafood trucks had dripping tables of iced fish and shellfish. Two tofu and soy milk producers were parked side by side. I loved the huge range of Asian produce available here. Five varieties of eggplants, each representing a different country, perhaps more wide-ranging types of chile peppers, and a remarkable diversity of Southeast Asian herbs.

In many ways, even more interesting was the United Nations of customers packed into this crowded space and their attempts to communicate with each other in their second language, English. Graceful ladies garbed in colorful silk saris, tiny Vietnamese grandmothers squeezing and inspecting each cherry before plopping any in their baskets, Filipinas sniffing a row of whole fish to decide which to buy, Hmong matrons rifling through piles of fresh herbs to find the largest bunches. I wished I had the time to follow them around to learn how to be a better shopper.

Still, I didn’t do too badly on my own. These cartons of fresh red onions were $1, holding from 3 to 5 pounds of Stockton’s finest apiece.

From another farmer from Merced I bought a bundle of three large Armenian cucumbers for a buck. With my onion purchase, I couldn’t help but be amazed to have a heavy bag of fresh produce that set me back only $2.

Stockton Certified Farmers Market
El Dorado St San Joaquin St, Stockton, CA 95202

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  1. I love hitting the downtown FM! It's kind of ironic that, before the freeway was built, this block was the heart of Stockton's Chinatown, and now it's the best place in the area to get good, fresh Asian veggies. Some of the fish looks a little sketchy sometimes, and NOBODY has sharper elbows than little old Chinese ladies who are fighting over the best ong choy!

    2 Replies
    1. re: ricepad

      Yes, I noticed the pagoda-esque rooflines and Chinese characters on the signage and had to make a decision about looking around what seemed to be an old Chinatown or going to the farmers market. Since I only had a few minutes, I opted for the FM. I had no problem getting a parking space across the street and made a quick dash through the market. I'm sorry that my report is only 15 minutes deep, I hope that you can fill in details. A lot of the fish was frozen solid and having those stalls together sent up quite a smelly stench.

      It's great to see a market that's so well used by the local community. I'd not been to Stockton since I was a child, so there's a lot for me to check out next year if I do the bbq thing again. And you're absolutely right, watch out for those Chinese little old ladies!

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        You didn't miss much - the freeway really did take out the heart of Stockton's Chinatown, so there's not much left to it.

        It's always been my opinion that the majority of the fish smell comes not from the fish on display, but from the previous week's fish juices and melted ice. There's a vendor at the end of 'fish row' whose display is frequently in the full sun, so the fish starts to look pretty peaked by mid-morning, but those vendors who are completely shaded under the freeway fare better.

        There's supposedly a live fish vendor who trucks his fish from the Sloughhouse area, but I have never seen him.

        The last time I was there, I saw a big ol' white guy standing in the middle of an aisle with his arms full of bags, and he had a slightly stunned look on his face. I commented to my daughter that I bet he'd been dragged there by his Asian wife to be her pack animal, and sure enough, a small Southeast Asian woman emerged from the crowd, added to his burden of bags, and led him off.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Live poultry looks interesting. We usually visit a farm around stockton are to get fresh meat slautered in the premises. Do you have any idea if we just have to buy the live poultry or do they have any slaughtering options in this farmer's market?

        1 Reply
        1. re: beatricethella

          Sadly, there are no more live poultry vendors at the Stockton Farmer's Market, thanks to legislation (new for this year) that sharply curtails the sale of live animals. IIRC, the original focus of the statute was people who would pile their dog's or cat's latest litter in a box and sell them outside Target/Walmart/Home Depot, but live poultry vendors at farmers' markets were collateral damage.

        2. Hi melanie,
          Was wondering if China's produce market is open everyday?

          5 Replies
              1. re: MelanieAnn

                China's produce market?? That's a l-o-n-g way from Stockton!

                  1. re: Alan408

                    Yeah, that was kind of my guess, except that Stockton hasn't had much of a Chinatown in several decades. Or maybe MelanieAnn was distinguishing between the Saturday farmer's market downtown (which is largely Asian) vs the other farmer's markets in Stockton that are, well, less Asian.

              2. I find it sad that with Stocktons history that this is not well advertised along with the other festivities in the area. It should also be promoted by Chinatown and the vendors.. Also wish there was a better place for them to sell their goods and have it opened longer.. Not good that this town is trying to rebuild as in getting rid of the history and moving it, tearing it down and totally relocating it away from the main district.. Guess you gotta get those malls and parking garages in there for more money.. I love this market and remember this is the oldest market and the town is a big part of Stockton history.

                1 Reply
                1. re: checkthisout

                  The downtown farmer's market isn't so much a 'festivity' or an 'event' as it is part of daily (or rather, weekly) life for much of Stockton. There is no better place for it as a year-round market, because it's protected from the weather and easily accessible from nearly any direction. The official hours are until 11AM, but by 9:30 or 10, most of the good stuff is gone, anyway, and a lot of the vendors start packing up to leave. IOW, the actual shopping hours are driven by the customers, who descend like a hoard of locusts before daybreak and then peter out by midmorning. As for malls and parking garages, there hasn't been a new mall in Stockton in close to 40 years (old timers still call Sherwood Mall the "new mall").

                  As for your other points...well, I'm not sure I understand what your other points are. What is being rebuilt? What history is being rid of/moved? The freeway itself took out Chinatown, but that was 50 years ago. What is the 'main district'?

                  Don't get me wrong...I agree that there's a lot that Stockton could be doing better, but you haven't identified any of it.