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Jan 28, 2012 08:37 AM

One more thing...SF farmers market

Want to visit a Saturday market while in San Francisco. Which is a good one? We'll have a car.

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  1. Ferry Plaza is the king of the farmers markets. The only comparable one is the Sunday farmers market in San Rafael.

    Next would be Alamany which is a great market but pales by comparison unless you are a local and looking for less expensive produce that is not usually organic. I wouldn't send a visitor here until they checked out Ferry Plaza first.

    This site has all the locations by day of the week

    5 Replies
      1. re: wolfe

        Not for a few years, but in that questionable survey as you so kindly pointed out the Crocker Galleria farmers market came out in the number three position. Despite some of the enthusiasm by a few Chowhounds i'd have to re-visit personally.

        1. re: rworange

          If you decide to go to the San Rafael Farmer's Market on Sunday, they do have quite a few prepared food vendors but also not too far away at Larkspur Landing (Marin County Mart) is a Sunday Off the Grid event, 11 am-2pm, with 8 or 9 food trucks.

          1. re: Bigshadetree

            We'll probably do the Ferry Plaza on Saturday. We'll be in Monterey on Sunday. Ah time.

        2. re: wolfe

          Mountain View's Sunday market is wonderful.

          Marin Civic is a huge scene with great produce but very high prices. And Alemany has considerably more organic offerings than it used it.

      2. Agree re characterizations of Ferry Bldg market and Alemany.

        But esp. if you have a car, rather than have to choose, you might do both on a Sat AM, experiencing different poles of the SF food world--the former, over-the-top re price and perfection and preciousness--the latter, funky, mostly non-organic, diverse re fruits/veg/herbs that you have to ask the names of, if you're not from the culture from which it comes.

        As a visitor (who's probably not going home to cook what you buy), you'll likely be esp. focused on prepared food. My husband's idea of the ideal Sat. market visit involves lunch @ Primavera @ the Ferry Bldg. As for me, if I die, eating a no-hyperbole-best-on-the-planet alfajores from the lovely woman @ Sabore del Sur @ Alemany, I'll die happy.

        7 Replies
        1. re: sundeck sue

          Oboy now I don't know. See - I always prefer a down to earth market vibe, rather than a gourmet perfect show. We'll only hit one market - we want to get down to Monterey that day and we're only spending a night there. So probably breakfast time at market and then leave town. You're right - we won't be cooking anything but might pick up stuff for a mid-day picnic enroute. So what would you do?

          1. re: Nyleve

            Ferry Plaza

            While Sue pretty much described both markets, i'm not talking about her, but there is a reverse snobbism via Ferry Plaza.

            Some people just float above the market and see the gourmet stuff and ignore there are real farmers and vendors at Ferry Plaza ... farmers that have been there long before it moved to its current location.

            Having shopped both markets almost weekly for decades, for purposes of your picnic Ferry Plaza is the place to go. It always ticks me off when people describe it as precious without getthing to know lots of the farmers and vendors. i also shopped at Ferry Plaza when i was writing about how to eat on $3 a day and had no problem with my budget. People overlook the reasonable stuff there if they don't know it.

            1. re: rworange

              Yeah, Ferry Plaza is great. There's some annoyingly precious stuff, but mostly it's just much of the best of the best of the area, including Andante Dairy cheeses, Della Fattoria and Acme breads, Downtown Bakery pastries, Boccalone and Fatted Calf salumi, and Cap'n Mike's smoked fish.

            2. re: Nyleve

              I concur re Ferry Plaza, given both your goals for the day (one-stop--grabbing breakfast and gathering the makings of a mid-day picnic)--and the fair responses re "precious" (some is--but by no means all--and my husband--for whom ferry mkt is nirvana, alemany not so much--will grin @ the label of "reverse snob").

              1. re: sundeck sue

                Ok great - done and done. Ferry Plaza it is. Thanks.

                1. re: sundeck sue

                  i want to be clear i wasn't calling you a reverse snob.

                  People see the egrecious vendors like Frog Hollow with their $4 peaches and overlook the vendors like McGinnis Ranch with Howard selling his golden raspberries and squash for far less than anything at Alamany.

                  I also like the diversity of Ferry Plaza. When i went regularily, i would be there an hour before they officially opened. You would be there with customers like me who had shopped there for decades ... introducing their children and grandchildren.

                  That early there are the chefs or staffs from top kitchens along with the homeless guy who carted his wok around in a little cart. i loved that guy. He would accept a handhout from no one ... vendors or customers. He seriously and silently went about the business of picking out his produce.

                  Also this is one of the few markets where the actual owners show up, probably because of the restaurant trade. So Helen Marshall would be talking about this weeks special honey ... say if the eucalyptus was in bloom. Don't miss the pumpkin blossom and the blackberry has been particularily good lately.

                  The cheese vendor would tell you what was blooming in the grass that week and why it changed the flavor of the cheese.

                  Three generations of Sciabica's would be there with their great olive oil. Almost up to the year he died in his 90's, i believe, the grandfather would be picking the tastiest figs from their own personal tree and selling them at the lowest prices in the Bay Area. Wonderful tomatoes from their garden and there were those beautiful Indian peaches, all less expensive than anywhere. You had to get there early.

                  So yeah, to those people who show up late and march shoulder to shoulder with the hordes ... yeah, i can see the put down. They miss Ferry Plazas secret garden.

                  Then when I finished at Ferry Plaza, i'd head over to Alamany which i liked for different reasons.

                  1. re: rworange

                    You're nice not to think of me as a "reverse snob"--but (mill town girl, born and bred) I admit to answering to that label!

                    That said, I love (underscored) your description/analysis of the "secret" market @ the Ferry Plaza.

                    Next time I'm there, I'll be looking/shopping w/ new eyes/awareness.

            3. Call me a reverse snob. I think the Ferry Building farmers' market is way more precious than Alemany, and way less staffed by actual dirt farmers than Alemany. I love the Ferry Building market. You won't go wrong by going there. But from your description of yourself and what you're after, I'm thinking the Alemany market would be more your style.

              Both markets -- in fact all farmer's markets -- are full of non-farmer food retailers, gourmet prepared food vendors, and other concessions that you would not find in a farmers' market 20 years ago. Selling through farmers' markets is a full-time every-day-of-the-week job of hourly employees these days. Yes, there are actual farmers at both markets. I'll take rworange's word for it that there are some hidden in the mix at the Ferry Building. But I'm betting that those farmers are a lot more likely to be college educated, back-to-the-land, nouveau farmers than the wizened immigrant families I buy from at Alemany (along with the pro retailers and food cart vendors). Ferry Building is more for farmers that sell premium goods to high end restauranteurs and boutique retailers, to paint with a broad brush.

              14 Replies
              1. re: BernalKC

                to rwo, I saw the redacted response and kinda sorry you deleted it.

                I'm not really dissing the farmers at the Ferry Building. I love the place and have been going there occasionally since it was in the median strip of the Embarcadero. I'm painting with a broad and judgmental brush, for sure. But I am the target demographic for that Ferry Building earth saving organic hucksterism, so indulge my reverse snobbery a bit. And you're right about my Bernal roots. Been here for decades, been shopping at the Alemany market for a long, long time. Its my home turf, so I'm biased.

                I just think that Nyleve might find Alemany more down to earth.

                Actually, Nyleve, I'd urge you to set the alarm for an hour earlier so you can hit both of them. One nice thing about Alemany is its right on the freeway to Monterey. You really want to take 280 and not 101, so drop by Alemany for 30 minutes and take stock of both places. You won't regret it.

                1. re: BernalKC

                  ...just when you figured you'd made a decision...

                  1. re: BernalKC

                    I didn't delete it. The mods did. Maybe one of them thought it was a personal attack on you. Obviously you didn't and that wasn't how it was meant.

                    it was meant at the whole "earth saving organic hucksterism" perception that some people have often when trying to steer visitors away from Ferry Plaza. As far as i remember, most people who went were glad they made that choice.

                    Before i get up on my soapbox again, I think nyleve should visit both markets because quite frankly breezing through Alamamany isn';t going to take a lot of time and it is right on the freeway on the trip South. It just isn't as big of a market as Ferry Plaza. Even when i shop there seriously it barely takes over a half hour.

                    Ferry Plaza, for me, always takes a few hours of my time.

                    Ferry Plaza has been there for decades. You might compare it to the current Chowhound. Chow came in and threw a lot of bells and whistles on it and is doing their damnest to destroy it. Yet so far, the underlying structure is sound despite those efforts. It is the place to discuss food and get good solid tips.

                    Ferry Plaza has the bells and whistles of fancy new digs and a few more artisan vendors.

                    Yet the majority of those farmers are still the farmers who have been there for years and whose families have been part of California history ... one group who sells there actually helped start the Alameny market.

                    Again, one can be blinded by some of the prices and some of the vendors, but that should not allow the majority of the hardworking farmers putting out exceptional products.

                    Going to Alamany, you will see your standard supermarket varieties of produce whether that is Safeway or some huge Asian market. Yes it is fresher but it is everyday kind of boring stuff. I love the honey vendor there, but quite frankly it is no match for Marshall's amazing variety.

                    i've been to to the Marshall honey farm. It is a modest little operation run by people who love their business. Hardly the image of hucksters. And so it is for most of the vendors

                    Many of us have been to Swanton Berry Farm. There's nothing slick about the place. They have an honor system where they put berries on a table and a locked box to deposit your money. Should they be dinged because they are not only growing organic berries but also treating their workers fairly. We support fair-trade outside the country. Why not in the US.

                    I think if the OP takes time to look at the list of farmers and their stories from the Ferry Plaza website there will be a different thought about what these markets are about. And most of the farmers have been doing this for generations. Not just out of school trying to pick pockets or sell flash. If it wasn't for ferry plaza some of these hardworking farms would get no attention. All ferry plaza does is pick the best.

                    Just a few

                    Achadinha Cheese Company - Jim Pacheco is a third generation dairyman and cheesemaker

                    Balakian Farms - Amber Balakian’s great-grandfather, an immigrant from Armenia, first planted a vineyard in Reedley more than 80 years ago.

                    Bella Viva Orchards - The Martinos have been farming since the 1940s. The family has a long history of selling directly to consumers: they were among the farmers who helped start the Alemany Farmers’ Market, the first modern farmers' market in San Francisco, in the early 1940s

                    1. re: rworange

                      Wow - incredible discussion generated by such a seemingly innocent question. I do truly appreciate the sincere passion behind these posts.

                      Here's how I'm going to solve this dilemma. We will start our day at the Ferry Plaza market because it seems that it shouldn't be missed, never mind the perception of preciousness or whatever. If I lived in San Francisco, maybe I wouldn't end up doing my weekly marketing there but as a visitor, it sounds to me like it will showcase the best of the SF food scene. Depending on what time we get on the road after that, we may or may not stop at Alemany market on the way down to Monterey. Will leave that to sort itself out on the day.

                      Where I live in Ontario, I happen to have access to a quite wonderful local farmers market, populated by mostly actual dirt farmers and close to the source. I also keep a big garden and bees and chickens so seeing the urban marketing of these products doesn't send me into a swoon the way it would if I were a city-dweller. I'm always interested in markets wherever I travel, though. I love to see what folks are doing with what they produce - as well as to see what people are buying. I'm also an unrepentant smuggler and always looking for things I can sneak back home with me either to eat or to propagate. He he.

                      Thanks for the help.

                      1. re: Nyleve

                        Not to muddy the waters further, but as a fan of both markets, I would point out another issue of history and architecture. The Alemany market was the first, and is held in a structure that was purpose designed for it. It sure made an impression on my young self when my parents dragged me there as tourists in the early 60's when the only thing I could compare it to was Boston's Haymarket, which was more of a bargain bin of produce market end-of-the-week overstock where I once overheard the unforgettable line "I ain't got no rotten ones, lady! " (Oh yes he did!) I could be wrong, but I think that it's a WPA project.

                        1. re: little big al

                          Not a WPA project, it was built by the city in 1947. It was the first farmers market in California. There were very few farmers markets in the state before 1977, when the laws were changed to exempt them from a lot of regulations.


                          1. re: little big al

                            nice to include architecture and (personal and more general) history (i esp. resonated, as haymarket figures in my roots--can hear, as i read the seller's line, a deep boston accent!).

                            your post sent me to google backstory re the two sf markets under discussion:




                          2. re: Nyleve

                            A few of my favorite things that you can take home

                            - Smoked onions from Mi Tierra

                            These are one of those things that are shockingly expensive, but are so flavorful to be worth it ... at least to me. It is like adding meat to a meatless dish.

                            - Pumpkin blossom honey from Marshall's

                            Yes, yes ... you have your own bees, but this is in a different class. i can and have eaten it straight with a spoon. They let you sample all the honey. When I'm buying gifts for people i ususally buy a very light honey like orange blossom, a medium which is usually pumpkin blossom and a deep dark honey like wild, wild west. The blackberry i bought was particularily good.

                            Sciabica olive oil

                            They have a little sampler of flavored olive oils. Usually I'm not a fan, but the flavors are true and good. They are best for the newly pressed oils that are rich, cloudy and with a sharp bite. SKIP any of the vinegars though.

                            June Taylor jams

                            Again there is lots of tasting. i haven't tried it this year, but usually her bing cherry is the only cherry jam I've found true to the tast of those cherries.

                          3. re: rworange

                            "Going to Alamany, you will see your standard supermarket varieties of produce whether that is Safeway or some huge Asian market."

                            I would say this is not inaccurate, nor is it all that accurate. I would love to know if you've been to Alemany in the last few years. There are vendors with really unusual citrus, Phan Farms has these purple sweet potatoes really consistently that are unusual and delicious (I've never seen them anywhere else), there is the hot Russian hippie chick with the best apples/apple cider imaginable (SE end of the market), the wonderful alfajores mentioned above, and some great hot food vendors so one can have brunch. Just to name a few specifics, and I'm not even a fan of the place w/the biggest line, Panorama breads. It tends to be cheaper because many are in transition to organic status and not organic yet, a long process. So, I hope this endorsement won't engender a s**t storm. Just my opinion from going there frequently. Alemany has changed some for the better in the last 2 years even.

                            1. re: Atomica

                              Thanks. I wanted to mention to the OP if they make it to Alamany to check out the great citrus vendor there. For some reason, that was always the one thing Ferry Plaza lacked and usually the reason for my going to Alamany.

                              I mean i'm kind of glad FP keeps that boring citrus vendor as it has been there eons ... good times and bad.

                              Panorama is another vendor I stopped by frequently at Alamany. Phan sells at a few East Bay markets and i'm a fan of theirs.

                              There are a few new vendors like the Russian chick I have missed in the last year and i need to make a trip down there to check out what is new. One Sunday I'm going to have to check out that Mountain View market too.

                              1. re: rworange

                                The "Russian chick" has been around for at least 5 years.

                                Her's is, indeed, the very best apples I have tasted anywhere.

                                While many of the (small, family) farmers at Alemany are not "certified" organic, they do embrace the spirit of organic farming -- no pesticides, no inorganic fertilizers, etc. I believe many of them are small farmers and they simply cannot afford to go through the certification process.

                                Having said that, I should add that in the last 2-3 years, there has been an increase of farmers selling "certified" organic produce at the Alemany farmer's market. So for those of you who care about this sort of thing, this should make you happy.

                                Alemany is where we go for our reguylar weekly produce, fruits and other stuff.
                                Ferry plaza is where we go, once in a while, to splurge in the prepared foods.

                              2. re: Atomica

                                any other identifying info--other than "hot russian hippie chick" and "SE end of the market"--to lead us reliably to those apples @ alemany?!

                                also interested in which alemany hot food vendors you like best; and what you get from them.

                                1. re: sundeck sue

                                  Here is a PDF (by someone else) on the layout:

                                  The PDF is a bit old, some of the layout has changed.
                                  But the "Russian chick" sits near "Stall #1" as marked here.
                                  These days, if you go, she is almost right next to the guy selling oysters.

                                  Other favorites (by no means is this a complete list):
                                  Strawberries from Rodriguez Brothers Farm
                                  Various greens and produce from Tomatero Organic Farm
                                  Various greens and produce from other vendors (dont know name!)
                                  Peach, Cherries, dried fruit, nuts from Ferrari Farms
                                  Eggs from Haney Egg Ranch (they also have duck eggs and other eggs)
                                  Asian Pears from the fruit lady (dont know her name)
                                  Mandarins (Satsuma) from the fruit guys
                                  Juice oranges from Bernard Family Ranch
                                  Bariani Olive Oil
                                  Honey from 2 vendors -- both are excellent!
                                  Mushrooms -- Far West Fungi

                                2. re: Atomica

                                  Alemany is the market that makes me proud to be a San Francisco.

                          4. As a visitor, I think you should stick with your plan to check out the Ferry Plaza farmers market. Just a couple of points:

                            1) On a beautiful day, the Ferry Plaza literally sparkles on Saturday morning because of its proximity to the water and view of the Bay Bridge. So while some prefer Alemany, you won't get the same setting and if you like being by the water, you'll miss the chance to see the Embarcadero at its finest.

                            2) Parking is a mess, so try to park maybe a couple of blocks away, possibly the Embarcadero Center's parking lot and then walk over. Going any where onto Embarcadero itself might just make you feel frustrated by the time you get to the market. I don't drive regularly so if others have better suggestions on parking, I would listen to them. But to me I would not want to be sitting on Embarcadero drive.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: singleguychef

                              There's a multilevel garage on Howard and Main (or within a block) with a discounted farmers' market rate. It has a big sign out front.

                              Embarcadero Center parking is a small fortune, as are meters in that area.

                                1. re: Windy

                                  On Saturday, Embarcadero Center parking lots have a farmer's market validation for lower rates. The lot on Howard has a low daily rate. The CUESA site has parking information.

                                  1. re: wally

                                    Here you go. The lot on Howard is $6 for 4 hours, and easy in and out.


                                    1. re: Windy

                                      I am a great fan of Alameny. This market is more representative of the people of San Francisco. It is quite large and there are some excellent food vendors. Prices are significantly lower than the Ferry Plaza. One vendor who is at both tells me he knows his customers and charges more for the same product at the Ferry Plaza.