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Catch-up 3: The Urban Pastoral

Urban Pastoral 2

Christmas Eve was a wonderful day for a bike ride to the farmer’s market. It was cool and clear out, and the market was far from crowded. I guess the hordes of holiday shoppers went to the Pike Place Market instead. I also had the pleasure of the wonderful company of my sister [Bad username: sytharin] and [Bad username: annikusrex], who are two of the people I greatly enjoy going on bike rides with. While I took the above photo, they decided that this style of photography should be termed "Urban Pastoral."

While at the market, strolling around and admiring vegetables, breads, dried mushrooms, and cheeses, I found it comforting to hear RAC echo my sentiments about the quality of farmers markets in Seattle as compared to what we've experienced in California. Simply put, the farmers markets in Seattle are head-and-shoulders better than anything we’ve encountered in California. I suspect this is a product of two things. The first is how the agricultural economies and populations are structured in the two places. While Seattle-proper is experiencing a housing crisis, there’s still a lot of small-scale farming in the immediate vicinity. There’s a bit of the same sort of small-scale farming near the Bay Area, but a much larger population to absorb high-quality goods, so, for instance, I never see the tasty Marin French Cheese Company cheeses for sale at the farmer's market. To some extent, we might find better and more interesting things at the Oakland farmer's market, but it's a haul to get down there so I still haven't been yet.

The second reason is determined by cultural differences in what constitutes a "farmer's market." It seems that instead of favoring the unusual, organic, and high-quality, the farmer’s markets in the Bay Area just sell…California-grown produce. The same stuff that gets sold to the national market, grown on large-scale farms and bred for durable shipping. A lot of the people who go to the farmer's market in El Cerrito are Asian families that are looking to buy fresh produce at the lowest possible price. They aren't interested in heirloom goods and varieties grown via small-scale production methods.

The farmer's market distinctions really show up in the baked goods. I've had some wonderful baked goods from bakeries far north of the North Bay, and I’ve heard that San Francisco proper has a toast craze going on, but in the East Bay it seems like just two big bakeries dominate the “crusty artisanal loaf” scene, and one of the two isn’t any good. Meanwhile, the University District farmer’s market had multiple places selling different varieties of baked delights of a quality and price that would quickly make me switch away from baking my own bread. scrottie is also fond of the Essential Baking Company's rosemary bread, even available at the store next to my parents' house, which we enjoyed on the train ride back to California:

Dining well on Amtrak

Don't get me wrong - it's even more difficult to find crusty artisanal loaves of bread in other parts of the country, let alone artisanal loaves made with whole wheat flour. It's just that things in Seattle and Washington are better.


( 6 remarks — Remark )
Dec. 29th, 2016 06:51 pm (UTC)
Interesting observation about farmer's markets - I've never been to the El Cerrito one but I don't disagree. I haven't been to an East Bay farmer's market in years given that Berkeley Bowl is closer to us & more convenient. We also just signed up for a CSA (Full Belly Farm) and are loving it.

If you are ever down in Santa Cruz County on a weekend, the Aptos farmer's market is the bomb. Saturdays at Cabrillo College. None of our urban space constraints so there are lots of vendors & therefore competition - the prices & quality are great.
Dec. 29th, 2016 07:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, overall, our needs are filled via a combination of Monterey Market, Country Cheese and Coffee, and homegrown produce. I have been making it over to Berkeley Bowl West about once a month to fill in the remaining grocery-shopping gaps (i.e. bulk conditioner, better beer selection). Altogether it's WAY better than the general options in Arizona or Texas, but still not quite the same as going to the market when x/y/z is at its peak.

Monterey Market often has produce from Full Belly Farm, and Full Belly seems like the sort of establishment I'd be happy to support, too.

I'll make a note about the Aptos farmer's market. Thanks for the tip!
Dec. 29th, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
Hm - there is a really nice farmer's market thing going on in Cleveland, and they are pretty strict about keeping it to local producers, and have some kind of policy that favors farmer's over other vendors so they don't just turn into craft fairs (though there are a lot of prepared foods, in their own section, and also crafts.) It's not identical to the Seattle scene, but I've been pretty happy with it - not quite the range of products (though a pretty decent range) and a somewhat different one, as you'd expect, but then you have all the Amish and Mennonite farmers and their various baked and canned goods, and a pretty hard core foodie movement which is a ton of fun. (The absolute best local artisanal sauer kraut. OMG. Lots of different kinds of tree nuts. Lots of meat products - okay, so like, a lot of this stuff I'm either allergic too or don't eat, but I appreciate it. Handmade vegan chocolates. Some good bakers, though the coffeehouse still has much better croissants.) Varietal milk.
Dec. 29th, 2016 11:29 pm (UTC)
Somehow having a wide assortment of things is nice, even if you don't partake in all of them. :^)

I liked one of the farmer's markets in Lincoln, too, for having its own nice local and seasonal feel. I also really miss the grocery co-op there, which carried tons of great produce from local farmers, had good bulk foods and cheese, and wasn't insanely crowded.

Another part of the problem here could just be the lack of seasons in California. On the other hand, a friend of mine who lives out in Stockton, in the California Central Valley, says that they have the exact same produce at their farmers market but for a fraction of what it costs in the Bay Area proper.
Dec. 29th, 2016 10:20 pm (UTC)
I too love rosemary bread. Most of it's not on stupid diet, but it is so good. Also makes wonderful French toast. And yeah, the U District farmer's market is super great. Better than the Cap Hill one, though I still haven't figured out how to reasonably get there and back with lots of groceries without driving. (Get panniers for my bike? But then the frozen stuff will have thawed by the time I labor my way back up Cap Hill.)
Dec. 29th, 2016 11:25 pm (UTC)
scrottie keeps talking about making a pedal-powered mini-fridge so he can enjoy a cold beer on a long brevet. But until then, the state-of-the-art is basically this cooler-pannier:


It isn't phenomenal, but if a couple of ice packs were added, I think it would at least get you back home.

Or you could consider a hybrid light rail + bike trip.
( 6 remarks — Remark )

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